High Court Hears ADA Case

February 27, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A case that has potentially sweeping implications for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) reached the Supreme Court.

During oral argument, justices debated whether the Act allows an employer to deny a candidate a job when the job would harm the worker’s health – an issue, which, although it is not addressed by the law, has been authorized by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations.

Case History

The case involves Mario Echazabal who, after working at a Chevron coker unit through contractors hired by the company for almost 20 years, applied for a job as a Chevron employee in the unit.

Chevron offered him the job, but a company doctor diagnosed a liver ailment and the company withdrew its offer, saying that the work environment could expose him to liver-damaging contaminants, and, possibly, kill him.

Chevron’s coker unit turns waste oil into usable chemicals, in an atmosphere tinged with acids, solvents, hydrocarbon vapor and other potentially dangerous substances.

Echazabal, taking the view that only he should be able to decides how much exposure to the chemicals he should tolerate, took the matter to court, charging discrimination.

Chevron counters that it feared exposing itself to legal liability if Echazabal took ill, maintaining that a disabled person is not a “qualified individual” who is entitled to the law’s protection if he or she could be made sick by the job.

Today in Court

According to a report in the Washington Post, Supreme Court Justices questioned both sides intensely, but appeared to show slightly more skepticism toward Echazabal’s position.

Echazabal’s lawyer argued that his client had worked for a subcontractor in the Chevron plant for years without worsening his liver condition, but justices seemed concerned that the argument might leave employers with no way to deny a job to someone whose condition might put him in jeopardy, according to the news report.

A decision in the case, Chevron v Echazabal, is expected by July.