Supreme Court Declines Review of Obese Trucker Case

Kevin Anderson Employment and Labor, Transportation

In a recent decision, the Supreme Court declined review of an 8th Circuit case involving a trucker who refused to take a sleep apnea test. The fact the court declined review could mean it substantially agrees with the lower court’s ruling, or that it is waiting for a split in decisions among the several circuits to decide the issue authoritatively.

The case that made its way to the Supreme Court only to be denied was over whether a trucking company discriminated against one of its employees for requiring him to take a sleep apnea test as a requirement for working as a driver for the company. The issues involved revolved around the federal law known as the American with Disabilities Act, or ADA.

Discrimination and the ADA

Federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against a current or potential employee based on their disabilities. But this does not mean employers are required to hire everyone who applies for a job. Clearly in some cases it is impossible for a person to work in certain industries with certain disabilities. But the law does require employers to make reasonable accommodations when needed to ensure that those with disabilities can work at a job where they are otherwise qualified.

In this case, Parker v. Crete Carrier Corp., the employee in question was challenging the company’s requirement that he take a sleep apnea test because his body mass index was 35 or greater. This number is achieved by dividing a person’s height by their weight. Any number above 27.8 for men and 27.3 for women means they are overweight, and above 35 means they are obese.

When a person has a BMI over 35, they are very likely to suffer from sleep apnea. And when a truck driver suffers from sleep apnea, it is a danger to himself, others, and the company when left untreated. Of course it is a primary concern of any company, and the federal government, that all truckers on the road do not pose a danger to themselves or the public.

Court Case

Despite these facts, the driver in this case refused to be tested for sleep apnea. He further argued that the company was discriminating against him based on his being overweight in violation of the ADA. But the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals did not buy this line of thinking or argument. In their opinion, the court ruled that the ability to do the job safely outweighed the danger of violating the ADA, and therefore the ADA did not apply in this case.

This was a win for trucking companies who seek to mitigate the risks and dangers that are inherent to the trucking industry. It also offers companies the ability to plan and create company policies which keep their drivers, and the public safer. But this could change should there be a split among the circuits and the Supreme Court make a final decision.

At Anderson and Yamada, P.C., we have decades of experience advising and representing trucking companies throughout the northwest. If you or your company are facing legal issues, contact us today. We look forward to being part of your team’s success.