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Employer Showed Individual with Seizures Direct Threat

Russell Pontinen applied for a utility position at United States Steel Corporation (“Steel”). The job would require him to operate industrial equipment and perform general labor duties involving torches, shovels, and other hand tools. The company offered him the position contingent upon his passage of a fitness-for-duty examination. That examination revealed Pontinen had a history of seizures.

Pontinen has had three or four seizures throughout his life. After the third seizure, Pontinen began seeing a neurologist who determined he should be taking medication. The doctor advised Pontinen to take his medication diligently every day. After a couple of years, Pontinen asked to stop taking his medication; the doctor advised against it. Pontinen kept insisting, so the doctor weaned him off of the anti-seizure medication. Aware of this fact, Steel’s medical director created a series of work restrictions based on his seizure history. Because of the safety-sensitive nature of the position, Steel concluded that these restrictions could not be accommodated, and they rescinded his job offer.

Pontinen sued for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the case. The appellate court concluded Steel revoked Pontinen’s job offer because his seizures were uncontrolled. The ADA allows employers to claim that hiring a disabled individual poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others. The court found Pontinen’s disorder was likely indefinite and admittedly uncontrolled. Because of the potentially disastrous consequences of Pontinen seizing and losing consciousness in a steel plant, the court held Steel showed hiring Pontinen posed a severe health and safety risk.