DOT safety certification trumps ADA protection

Some jobs require special government physical certifications as a pre-requisite to employment. These are generally designed to make sure the employee can safely perform a job that might otherwise put the public, or the employee, at risk of harm.

What happens if such an employee becomes disabled? Essentially, the employer can follow the normal certification or licensing process. There’s no requirement to do more.

Recent case: Jimmie worked for J.B. Hunt Transport as a tractor-trailer driver. The job required drivers to keep a current commercial drivers’ license and meet “all Federal and State requirements for certification.”

Drivers have to pass a federal Department of Transportation medical exam. According to DOT, a person is not physically qualified if he has a current clinical diagnosis of any “cardiovascular disease … accompanied by syncope” (fainting), or any “condition which is likely to cause loss of consciousness or any loss of ability to control a commercial motor vehicle.”

The trouble began when Jimmie fainted at home and his doctor diagnosed ventricular tachycardia—a rapid and irregular heartbeat.

Perhaps recognizing that such a diagnosis might imperil his commercial drivers’ license, Jimmie went to another doctor and told him he had passed out from coughing. Somehow, J.B. Hunt obtained the first report and sent it to the second doctor’s office. There, a third doctor concluded that the first diagnosis precluded Jimmie from passing the required DOT physical. J.B. Hunt terminated Jimmie.

He sued under the ADA, alleging disability discrimination.

But the court disagreed. It said Jimmie was essentially not qualified because keeping a commercial drivers’ license was a job requirement. The ADA doesn’t override other laws that require medical certification. The case was dismissed. (Williams v. J.B. Hunt Transport, No. 15-20610, 5th Cir., 2016)