- The Washington Times - Monday, November 5, 2001

There are so many type-A's in Washington that it's hard to imagine anyone who's not working himself to death, or trying to. Your ability to insist on an opportunity to work yourself to death literally is being challenged in a case that will go before the U.S. Supreme Court this term. In the case of Chevron v. Echazabal, the court will decide whether an employer can refuse a job to someone who the job will kill. It's another case under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Mr. Mario Echazabal was employed by a maintenance contractor that was working for Chevron at one of its refineries. In 1992, he applied for a similar job, this time to work directly for Chevron. The company gave him a job offer that was conditioned on passing a medical examination. When Mr. Echazabal went for his physical, the Chevron doctors found that he had chronic, active hepatitis C, a serious disease of the liver. Chevron then withdrew its job offer, on the basis that working at the refinery would expose Mr. Echazabal to chemicals that would likely cause him severe liver damage (i.e., kill him). His employer kept him on the job. In 1995, Mr. Echazabal applied for the Chevron job again, and this time Chevron not only denied him the job, but told his employer to remove him from the refinery.
In a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Mr. Echazabal alleged discrimination by Chevron, saying that, under the ADA, Chevron couldn't deny him the job. The case wound up in federal court, and, after Chevron won, at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit, one of the country's notably liberal courts, reversed the lower court in an opinion that is memorable only for its lack of common sense.
The ADA allows an employer to deny a job to someone whose physical condition will pose a risk to the company or others in the workplace. This "direct threat" defense was interpreted by the EEOC to include the sensible idea that an employer wasn't required to hire an employee whom the job would harm. No employer wants to buy a wrongful death lawsuit by hiring a person who will be harmed by the job conditions. The Ninth Circuit disagreed, saying that risking one's own health or safety cannot be a disqualifying factor. Under the ADA, Chevron had to hire Echazabal even though the job would harm him.
The Supreme Court has now agreed to hear Chevron's appeal. When it does, it should rein in both the ADA and the Ninth Circuit. Here's hoping the Supreme Court will bring sense to this nonsensical situation.


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