Employee with symptomatic heart condition and workplace with widespread use of heavy machinery will not receive ADA protection.
In Wurzel v. Whirlpool Corp (6th Circuit), Mr. Wurzel was a factory worker. After twenty years of employment, he developed heart problems. Although cleared to work by his physician, Mr. Wurzel experienced severe chest pains and spasms on many occasions. He repeatedly required treatment in the plant’s medical emergency room. The employer became concerned about problems should these attacks occur while Mr. Wurtzel was operating heavy machinery, such as a forklift. He was transferred to a different position where he would not be using the forklift. As Mr. Wurzel continued to experience spasms, the employer hired an independent medical examiner to evaluate the situation. This examiner found that Mr. Wurzel should not be permitted to work alone or near moving machinery. Mr. Wurzel went on an extended sick leave.
Mr. Wurzel filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed for the employer. Mr. Wurzel posed a direct threat to workplace safety, which is an exception to employer liability under the ADA. Whirlpool had made an objective decision regarding Mr. Wurzel’s job related abilities based on a non-discriminatory evaluation process.