Denying Employment Based on Carpal Tunnel Screening Found Unlawful

November 27, 2017

A federal judge ruled in favor of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in its disability discrimination charge against Amsted Rail Co., Inc. The federal judge ruled that Amsted, a leading manufacturer of steel castings for the rail industry, violated federal disability law when it disqualified job applicants based on the results of a nerve conduction test for carpal tunnel syndrome rather than conducting an individualized assessment of each applicant's ability to do the job.

According to the ruling in EEOC v. Amsted Rail Co., Inc., No. 14-cv-1292-JPG-SCW (S.D. Ill.), the court found that Amsted's practice screened out job applicants based on a small statistical risk that they might develop carpal tunnel syndrome, violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The court also ruled that Amsted violated the ADA when it refused to hire Montrell Ingram because he previously had successful surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome.

In motions filed with the court last year, the EEOC asked the court to rule that Amsted's use of the nerve conduction test was discriminatory as a matter of law, as well as its policy not to hire applicants who had previously had carpal tunnel syndrome surgery. The EEOC argued that Amsted regarded applicants as disabled because it unreasonably perceived them as at risk to develop carpal tunnel syndrome based upon previous surgery for the condition or the results of the nerve conduction test. Amsted argued that its nerve conduction test and previous surgery rule were justified to identify persons with an enhanced risk for the development of carpal tunnel syndrome.

The court rejected the majority of Amsted's arguments and ruled that the company's conduct was unlawful because it discriminated on the basis of disability, finding that the nerve conduction test had little to no value in predicting the likelihood of future injury.

"While Amsted would like to claim it was protecting workers, its practice denied employment opportunities to workers who were ready and able to do the job," said Andrea G. Baran, regional attorney of the EEOC's St. Louis District. "Employment decisions, including hiring decisions, must be based on a person's ability to perform the job, not on stereotypes, assumptions or conjecture. An individualized assessment of the applicant's present ability to safely perform the job duties is required before an employer may screen out an applicant based on medical tests or exams in the hiring process."

The case is pending in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois in Benton, Ill., and will now proceed with determining damages and remedies for the applicants who were harmed by Amsted's discriminatory conduct.