The Americans with Disabilities Act contains a provision allowing exclusion of disabled persons from jobs when their medical condition contradicts federal licensing requirements. In practice, this exclusion has applied most frequently to interstate truck drivers with medical conditions that disqualify them from Commercial Drivers Licenses (CDLs) under DOT regulations. Last month, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that this exception does not apply to a truck mechanic who may be asked to test drive vehicles under repair.
In Samson v. FedEx, the plaintiff applied for a job as a mechanic, but was rejected after his diabetes prevented him from obtaining a CDL. He sued, claiming ADA discrimination. FedEx argued that test driving trucks was an essential function of the job because it was indispensable to the mechanic’s ability to diagnose problems and confirm that they have been resolved. The district court agreed, dismissing the claim on summary judgment.
In a 2-1 decision, the Eleventh Circuit rejected this reasoning, remanding the claim for a jury trial. The court found two flaws with the employer’s reasoning. First, the Eleventh Circuit questioned whether a CDL was in fact required for test drives that would not take place on public roads. Second, the court found that such driving took a miniscule amount of the mechanic’s time, and that these functions could easily be distributed to other CDL drivers. In other words, the court concluded that driving was not an essential function of the mechanic position.
Employers relying on the regulatory exemption to the ADA should take steps to assure that the licensing requirement applies to an essential job function. They should analyze the job in question and prepare a written job description that clearly demonstrates how the licensing requirement applies to performance of the job. Licenses that would have a tangential impact on job performance should not be used as the basis for rejecting otherwise qualified candidates for employment.