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Federal Regulations Overcome ADA Claim

Daryle McNelis was an armed security officer for the Pennsylvania Power and Light Company (PPL), which operated a nuclear facility. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires that officers be evaluated for fitness for duty to “provide high assurance” that they “are trustworthy and reliable, such that they do not constitute an unreasonable risk to public health and safety or the common defense or security.”

Mr. McNelis was suffering from mental health problems, including paranoia, and seemed to have a drinking problem. One of his co-workers reported that he was concerned about Mr. McNelis’ behavior. After being place on restricted access, Mr. McNelis was evaluated by a psychologist who found him to be unfit for duty. PPL fired him.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed his lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), finding that Mr. McNelis could not meet the “qualified individual” prong needed to prevail. To be a qualified individual, Mr. McNelis had to show that he could perform the essential functions of the position with or without accommodation. The NRC regulations required that he be fit for duty and be able to hold an unrestricted security clearance to work as an armed security officer. Compliance with legally mandated job requirements was a valid defense to an ADA claim and the court noted that the ADA applies differently to jobs impacting the public welfare. PPL had appropriately followed NRC guidelines and did not violate the ADA by terminating Mr. McNelis.