While a judge on the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor disagreed with two fellow judges who ruled an employer could set safety standards higher than what the government required.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had sued J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc., claiming that the rights of applicants for over-the-road (OTR) truck driving jobs had been violated.
Hunt chose not to hire OTR applicants taking certain prescription medications with side effects that could impair driving.
The trucking company argued that the large vehicle size and the extreme driving conditions faced by its OTR drivers warranted extra safety precautions.
Hunt cited Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations that allow an operator to require and enforce “more stringent requirements relating to safety of operation and employee safety and health.”
The two-judge majority on the 2nd Circuit disagreed with the EEOC, saying the applicants lost their jobs because of the medications they took, not because of any real or perceived disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
To find that the applicants were regarded as disabled, the EEOC had to show that Hunt perceived the rejected applicants as limited from a class or a broad range of jobs.
The two-judge majority found that OTR driving didn’t qualify as a class or broad range of jobs.
But Judge Sotomayor found that the EEOC has shown Hunt believed the rejected applicants were unfit to drive any truck — which qualified as a broad range of jobs.
Had one of the other two judges agreed with her position, Hunt would have been found in violation of the ADA.
If that were the case, Hunt would not have been allowed to set higher safety standards for its OTR drivers than required by the DOT.
The majority ruling in the Hunt case and Sotomayor’s dissent are online here.
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