Safety and OSHA News

Company sued for testing applicants for carpal tunnel syndrome

Can companies make hiring decisions based on whether someone is more likely to be injured on the job? That’s the question in a lawsuit against a manufacturing company. 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed a lawsuit against Amsted Industries and Amsted Rail Co., charging the companies with improperly using physical tests and applicants’ health histories in the hiring process at their Granite City, IL, facility.

The EEOC says Amsted asked applicants if they had a history of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and gave them a nerve conduction test. The companies refused to hire Montrell Ingram and at least 50 other applicants because they had a history of CTS, failed the nerve conduction test, or both, according to the lawsuit.

That’s a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the EEOC said. In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, the EEOC seeks to:

  • end Amsted’s discriminatory hiring practices, and
  • obtain back pay and other damages for the people who were denied jobs as a result of the company’s practices.

The EEOC and Amsted failed to reach a pre-litigation settlement.

“Employment decisions, including hiring decisions, must be based on a person’s ability to perform the job, not on stereotypes, assumptions or conjecture,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Andrea Baran. “An individualized assessment of the applicant’s present ability to safely perform the job duties is required if an employer screens out an applicant based on medical tests or exams in the hiring process.”

Ergonomic injuries could be considered disabilities

Not too long ago, ergonomic injuries like CTS weren’t considered disabilities. A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2002 stated that carpal tunnel syndrome wasn’t a disability under then-current U.S. law.

As a result, in 2008 Congress passed the ADA Amendments Act which expanded the legal definition of “disabled.” The EEOC’s regulations reflecting the changes made by Congress took effect in 2011.

So now various ergonomic injuries like CTS could come under the ADA, including:

  • tendinitis
  • rotator cuff injuries
  • epicondylitis (an elbow problem)
  • trigger finger, and
  • muscle strains and low back injuries.
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  1. So an employer cannot help protect someone from having avoidable injury issues and has to stand back and allow for the person to have problems – and then is also expected to absorb the avoidable cost?

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