Supreme Court To Weigh in on Safety Case

October 30, 2001 ( - The Supreme Court has agreed to weigh in on a case concerning the employment of workers with disabilities in situations where the job poses a direct threat to their health.

In its support of the plaintiff, the appeals court ruled that employers can only require that disabled employees not pose a significant risk to others in the workplace, ruling that Congress intended that disabled persons should be given the choice to decide for themselves what risks to undertake.

Justice Weighs In

The nation’s high court agreed to hear the case after the US Justice Department said the appellate court decision ? which supported the plaintiff – was wrong. In fact, the Justice Department said the lower court’s decision invalidated Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regulations that employers can require that individuals not pose a threat to their health and safety.

Chevron had appealed the US appeals court decision, warning the ruling would:

  • result in worker deaths
  • force employers to be unwilling participants in the injuries suffered by disabled workers and
  • open businesses up to liability awards.

It said the ruling meant an employer could not “deny a job handling dangerous machinery to an epileptic who suffers uncontrollable seizures” and could not “remove an employee with controllable vertigo from a job scaling high structures.” Chevron also said the ruling conflicted with decisions by other US appeals courts.

Case History

The case involved Mario Echazabal, who first began working in Chevron’s oil refinery in El Segundo, California, in 1972. He was employed by various maintenance contractors but in 1995 applied to work directly for Chevron. At that time his application was rejected because he had been diagnosed with a chronic form of hepatitis.

At the same time, Chevron also asked the contractor to remove Echazabal from the refinery, claiming that exposure to liver-toxic solvents and chemicals would make his disease worse and could even kill him.

Echazabal sued, claiming discrimination based on his disability. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, but the appeals court ruled it could go forward.

Echazabal’s attorneys told the Supreme Court the appeal should be rejected, claiming Chevron never established that his medical condition prevented him from performing the tasks required for the job.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case early next year, with a decision due before the end of June.

– Nevin Adams