Court takes case of worker who argues he was denied oil refinery job that could kill him

Monday, October 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear the case of a man who was denied an oil refinery job because of a disability that his own doctor said could kill him.

Mario Echazabal sued Chevron Corp. under the Americans With Disabilities Act, claiming he should have gotten the job despite a chronic case of hepatitis C.

Doctors who examined Echazabal said exposure to chemicals at the refinery would speed the deterioration of Echazabal's liver, and that a large exposure from a plant fire or other emergency could kill him.

A Supreme Court decision in the case could help clarify what duty an employer has to potential employees with disabilities. The landmark 1990 ADA says employers must make reasonable accomodations for disabilities, and cannot discriminate.

Chevron withdrew a 1995 job offer to Echazabal for work at the company's El Segundo, Calif., refinery. Echazabal sued in 1997, but a federal judge threw out his case.

He appealed, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that Chevron could not claim that the threat posed to Echazabal's health was enough to disqualify him.

One member of the three-judge appeals panel dissented, and called the majority ruling ``Pickwickian.''

Following the majority's logic could mean a steelworker with vertigo could work on high-rise buildings and someone with an allergy to bee stings could be hired as a beekeeper, Judge Stephen S. Trott wrote.

Chevron appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that Echazabal's medical condition puts him outside the protection of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The federal anti-bias law mandates equal treatment for qualified workers, no matter their disability.

``The absurd result in this case, one that will cost workers' lives and force unwilling employers to be complicit in their injuries, is not what Congress had in mind when it enacted the ADA,'' Chevron's lawyers wrote.

The case is Chevron v. Echazabal, 00-1406.