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Disability Issues

Supreme Court Limits Disability Law in Life Threatening Cases

In a unanimous 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court ruled on June 10, 2002, that an employer may choose not to hire a disabled job applicant if the disability renders the job a threat to his or her life or health. The decision carves out an exception to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was first enacted in 1990.

The ruling came in a case pitting Chevron against an employee of one of its contractors. In 1996 the contractor laid off Mario Echazabal, who had hepatitis C, after Chevron requested that he be reassigned. Chevron argued that it was afraid that conditions at the California oil refinery where Echazabal would be working would worsen his condition, and that it could be liable under separate health and safety rules enforced by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). 

Echazabal argued that he was best qualified to make that decision. His lawyers pointed out that OSHA has never penalized an employer for hiring an individual under the ADA who was willing to accept the risks associated with the position. 

Section 102 of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from discriminating against people with disabilities because of their disabilities unless it can be shown that the disability hinders the employees ability to perform the job. The case was Chevron USA, Inc. v. Echazabal (No. 00-1406).

- 6/10/02

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