Supreme Court To Decide Whether Employer May Deny Job for
Employee's "Own Good"
Supreme Court will hear arguments tomorrow in an employment
discrimination case that could affect the freedom of employees
to weigh the risks and benefits of working particular jobs
without their bosses making those decisions for them.
job involves some risks, but the question is, do we let people
make those risk assessments for themselves, or do we let
employers decide?" said James Esseks, Litigation Director of the
American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian & Gay Rights/HIV AIDS
Project and primary author of a friend-of-the-court brief the
organization filed in the case.
resident Mario Echazabal, 56, was twice turned down for a job
with oil giant Chevron which said that because he had
Hepatitis-C the job would endanger his health.
in Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Mario Echazabal, No. 00-1406,
is whether individuals with disabilities like Hepatitis, HIV or
other medical conditions have the right to determine for
themselves whether to accept the risks of employment; and
whether Chevron violated the Americans with Disabilities Act
(ADA) when it used an employee's disability as a reason for
Echazabal is qualified to perform the functions of the position
he sought at Chevron," said Lenora Lapidus, Director of the
ACLU's Women's Rights Project and co-author of the brief. "An
employer's demand that the functions of a position be performed
without risk to one's health is the same paternalistic argument
once used to keep women out of certain work environments."
worked for many years at the coker unit of a Chevron refinery as
an employee of various contractors. In 1992, he applied to work
directly for Chevron in the same unit. Chevron offered Echazabal
the job contingent upon the results of a pre-employment physical
examination, and then denied him the job after a physical exam
revealed he had Hepatitis-C, a condition that could worsen if he
was continually exposed to solvents and chemicals in that
he again applied for the same position and again was denied
because of his disability. This time, however, Chevron pressured
the contractor for whom Echazabal worked to fire him.
Circuit Court of Appeals decision handed down last year held
that Chevron could not defend against a disabilities act
discrimination claim by arguing that the position sought by
Echazabal would harm his health. The Ninth Circuit also held
that under the law this sort of defense is only permissible when
a disabled individual presents a direct threat to the safety of
ACLU's friend-of-the court brief is online at http://archive.aclu.org/court/echazabal.pdf