Samson v. Federal Express Corporation, No. 12-14145 (11th Cir. Mar. 26, 2014)

| Mar 26, 2014 | Daily Developments in EEO Law |

The panel majority in this Eleventh Circuit appeal reverses summary judgment in an ADA and Florida state law claim. It holds that FedEx possibly imposed an impermissible qualification standard on a job applicant with diabetes, by insisting that he pass a federal Department of Transportation medical certification for a mechanic’s position that was not otherwise subject to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs).

Samson v. Federal Express Corporation, No. 12-14145 (11th Cir. Mar. 26, 2014):

“FedEx employs Technicians at its airport facilities to maintain, troubleshoot, and repair its trucks. On February 11, 2009, Samson-a vehicle mechanic with about twenty-nine years of experience-applied online for FedEx’s sole Technician position at its Fort Myers airport facility.” Technicians are not drivers, but may have to operate trucks for “test-driving” purposes, so FedEx requires that Technicians have a commercial driver’s license. Additionally, the job description requires that the Technician:

“Must possess a valid driver’s license and be at least 21 years of age. Must meet qualifications as outlined in section 391 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Requires medical exam in accordance with FHWA or FAA regulations. Must also have light to heavy truck experience. Job offers are contingent upon successful completion of required examinations/checks for the particular position (e.g., drug screen, medical examinations in accordance with FHWA regulations, criminal record check, etc.).”

While the federal regulations apply to drivers who carry passengers or freight interstate, technicians only drive the trucks short distances near the terminal and so are not bound by the FMCSRs.

Samson was preliminary offered the position, but failed his medical examination because he is a Type-1 insulin-dependent diabetic (49 C.F.R. §§ 391.41(b)(3) and .43(f)). FedEx then withdrew the offer. In an email responding to the applicant’s complaint that the failure to hire was discriminatory, a FedEx representative responded: “It was the company’s decision to be governed by Federal Guidelines rather than the various state regulations so we would not have to try and manage 50 sets of state regulations. Unfortunately, Federal DOT Guidelines prohibit hiring anyone that is insulin dependent.”

The district court granted summary judgment, holding that Samson could not perform the essential function of the job (test-driving), but the Eleventh Circuit reverses. While agreeing that at least some factors favored the employer on the essential-function issue (the employer’s own judgment, the written description, the occasional requirement of test-driving to assure safety, and that FedEx applied it consistently), the panel majority holds that the balance of the factors do not support FedEx. Nine other employees at the same facility with commercial licenses could perform test-drives, and the need for test-drives was highly sporadic (an average of 3-4 hours a year). So a jury could find that test-driving was not an essential function.

Moreover, the panel holds that FedEx’s voluntary application of FMCSRs to all employees who might operate a commercial vehicle is not a defense. While it is a defense to an ADA claim that a challenged qualification standard was “required or necessitated by another Federal law or regulation,” 29 C.F.R. § 1630.15(e), here the panel majority holds that it is not required. A technician driving out of the Fort Myers facility was not going to cross state lines and enter interstate traffic.

“At bottom, we conclude that the occasional test-driving of empty FedEx trucks in the Fort Myers area does not constitute transporting property or passengers in interstate commerce. The FMCSRs, therefore, did not oblige FedEx to require Samson to obtain DOT medical certification to be ‘qualified’ for the Technician position. By the same token, the FMCSRs do not afford FedEx a defense to Samson’s disability discrimination claims. For these reasons, we reverse and remand this case to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion, including determining whether summary judgment should be entered for Samson on his claims that FedEx’s medical examination requirement is an impermissible qualification standard.”

Dissenting, Judge Hill holds that an employer can – consistent with the ADA – require that a class of motor vehicle operators meet the DOT certification requirements, even if the particular employee was unlikely to engage in interstate driving. “Indeed, if FedEx were to allow a technician to operate one of its commercial motor vehicles without a commercial driver license and without a valid DOT medical certification, FedEx could be subject to both criminal and civil liabilities.”

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