6th Cir.: CPAP Requirement Doesn’t Create Unsafe Working Condition

Frank Ferreri

Cincinnati, OH (WorkersCompensation.com) — test test A CPAP machine for a truck driver with sleep apnea was an accommodation, not an unsafe working condition.

According to the court in Allman v. Walmart Inc., No. 19-4220 (6th Cir. 07/30/20), no “reasonable person” would believe that requiring an employee to wear a CPAP machine while sleeping for safety reasons turned the driver’s resignation into a wrongful termination.

Walmart required the driver to wear a CPAP machine at night based on medical reports that he had sleep apnea. Per 49 CFR 391.41(a)(1)(i)‘s medical requirements for commercial truck drivers, Walmart imposed the CPAP requirement as part of its “SleepSafe Drivers” initiative.

CPAP Refusal

The driver tried to use the machine for several weeks but gave up after experiencing dry mouth, headaches, and nosebleeds. He sought a second sleep study, and the results indicated that he didn’t have sleep apnea.

In response, Walmart asked the driver to undergo another DOT medical exam to be recertified to drive. Although the driver secured the certification, Walmart required him to undergo another sleep study. This study resulted in another sleep apnea diagnosis.

The driver refused to wear the machine and resigned. He sued, alleging that his resignation was a constructive discharge and that Walmart terminated him in violation of Ohio law.

The District Court found in Walmart’s favor, prompting the driver to appeal to the 6th Circuit.

Ohio cases have held that the state’s public policy demands that employees be provided with a safe work environment and that unsafe working conditions be corrected.

Safe Work Environment

Here, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that Walmart, not the driver, had the better argument in terms of workplace safety.

“Walmart’s CPAP requirement was not an unsafe working condition, but instead a disability accommodation meant to promote public safety on the highways and to ensure compliance with federal law,” wrote the 6th Circuit.

In upholding the District Court’s ruling in Walmart’s favor, the 6th Circuit explained that the driver’s personal discomfort with the machine was “unfortunate” but didn’t show a wrongful termination.

“Walmart offered a legitimate reason for requiring [the driver] to undergo another DOT examination, and [the driver] failed to raise a genuine dispute as to whether that reason was pretextual,” the court reasoned.

The court noted that it was “hard-pressed” to understand the logic of the driver’s argument that he was opposing unsafe working conditions by refusing to wear the CPAP device.

With “so many others” having successfully used CPAPs “to alleviate the dangers of sleep apnea,” the court explained that “nothing in the record … would allow a reasonable person to hold such a belief.”

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