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Court considers implications of disabilities act

Court considers implications of disabilities act

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court grappled Wednesday with the latest in a series of cases testing the American with Disabilities Act, trying to determine whether the law allows companies to refuse to hire people whose health may suffer on the job.

The case under consideration revolves around Chevron's refusal to hire Mario Echazabal to work at its El Segundo, California, refinery after the company's doctors said Echazabal should avoid exposure to toxic chemicals that would exacerbate his liver problems.

Chevron cited the landmark 1990 law, which says a business may choose not to hire someone who poses a "direct threat" to the health or safety of other workers.

But Echazabal won a discrimination suit after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with his contention that the ADA does not apply to individuals who represent no "direct threat" to others.

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Some justices appeared to support Chevron's position, citing "business necessities" for not having a worker become seriously ill or die -- even if the would-be employee was willing to take that risk.

"We want employers to care about their employees," said Justice Anthony Kennedy, who suggested it was "barbarous" to argue otherwise.

But Justice John Paul Stephens said that an employee who needs a job may be willing -- and should be able -- to take on some degree of risk.

Diagnosed with chronic active Hepatitis C, Echazabal has abnormal liver function and qualifies as a disabled person under the ADA. Despite Chevron's refusal to hire him, Echazabal worked for a time at the oil refinery as a laborer for various independent contractors who were willing to employ him.

Echazabal, who attended Wednesday's court arguments, said he is now a bus driver in Los Angeles.

"This is about who gets to decide if the job is too unsafe," Samuel Bagenstos, an attorney for Echazabal, told the court. The decision should be up to the "applicant, not the employer."

The Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision in the case by the end of June.



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