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Supreme Court Rules Disabled May Be Denied Risky Jobs

June 18, 2002

By unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that employers may deny a job to disabled workers who face serious risks to their own health or safety. In its interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the court sided with Chevron-Texaco Corp. It said a U.S. appeals court was wrong in ruling that employers must hire disabled workers, even if the job poses a direct threat to their health or safety. Advocates for the disabled had warned that a ruling for ChevronTexaco could allow companies to reject qualified workers by saying it was for their own good. They said the employee, not the employer, should determine if the job was too risky. The case involved Mario Echazabal, who began working for the Chevron refinery in El Segundo, CA, in 1972, working for various maintenance contractors. In 1995, he applied to work directly for Chevron as a plant helper. The company rejected his job application after learning he had been diagnosed with a chronic form of hepatitis. Chevron asked the contractor to remove Echazabal from the refinery on the grounds that his exposure to liver-toxic solvents and chemicals would make his disease worse and could even kill him. Echazabal sued, claiming Chevron had discriminated against him based on his disability. In the confirming opinion, Justice David Souter said that the regulation exemplified the substantive choices agencies must make when Congress leaves competing objectives imprecisely marked and subject to administrative leeway.
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