This company required its truck drivers with Body Mass Indexes (BMIs) of 35 or greater to be screened for obstructive sleep apnea. Did that violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
Crete Carrier Corp. hired Robert Parker as a truck driver in 2006.
Drivers must get medical exams every two years and must not have impairments that interfere with driving.
In 2008, the Medical Review Board of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recommended testing some drivers for sleep apnea because it causes daytime sleepiness that leads to more crashes. In 2012, the board recommended drivers with BMIs over 35 undergo screening for obstructive sleep apnea. In 2016, the board revised its recommendations to include drivers who either have BMIs of 40 or above or have BMIs of 33 or above plus additional risk factors.
In 2010, Crete began a sleep apnea program that required drivers to be screened for sleep apnea if their BMI was 35 or above.
In July 2013, Parker, who had a BMI at or above 35, refused Crete’s required sleep study. Crete took Parker out of service.
Parker produced a note from a certified physician’s assistant that said it wasn’t medically necessary for him to have a sleep study. Crete didn’t reinstate Parker.
Parker sued Crete alleging it discriminated against him because it regarded him as having a disability, in violation of the ADA.
Crete requested a federal district court dismiss the lawsuit, and the court agreed. Parker appealed to the 8th Circuit.
Is medical exam job-related?
The ADA prohibits employers from requiring a medical examination unless it’s shown to be job-related and “consistent with business necessity.” The employer has the burden of showing the exam is job-related.
An employer can satisfy the requirement by showing the potential for a safety risk and that the medical exam would decrease that risk.
- Untreated obstructive sleep apnea can impair driving skills, increasing the risk of crashes
- A sleep study is the only way to confirm or rule out obstructive sleep apnea
- 76.9% of people with obstructive sleep apnea have a BMI above 33, and
- Obstructive sleep apnea can be treated, decreasing the risk of motor vehicle crashes.
Parker didn’t offer any evidence to dispute those facts.
The 8th Circuit found Crete’s sleep study requirement was job-related and consistent with business necessity. It also found Crete had reasons to suspect Parker had sleep apnea given his BMI.
Parker argued that four factors made it unreasonable to require him to have a sleep study:
- He had no documented sleep issues at work
- He received a Department of Transportation certification
- He had five years of crash-free driving, and
- His personal medical provider didn’t feel a sleep study was medically necessary.
The court said those factors “do not undermine Crete’s reasonable basis for concluding he (Parker) poses a genuine safety risk. None of the characteristics establish that he does not suffer from sleep apnea.”
The 8th Circuit agreed with the district court and threw out Parker’s lawsuit. “The undisputed evidence shows that Crete suspended Parker for refusing to submit to a lawful medical examination,” the court wrote. “That does not violate the ADA.”
(Robert J. Parker v. Crete Carrier Corp., U.S. Circuit Crt. 8, No. 16-1371, 10/12/16)