Female Truck Driver Can Bring Discrimination Suit Against Trucking Company

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A female truck driver will be allowed to bring suit against the trucking company that she says wrongfully fired her, according to a federal appeals court’s decision.

Deborah Merritt had worked for the Thomasville, North Carolina-based Old Dominion Freight trucking company for six years, as a “line haul” driver. As such, she often made lengthy cross-country trips, and so she decided to ask for a transfer to a job as a pickup-and-delivery truck driver, a position which would have given her more regular hours. Merritt did not receive the job, although two less-experienced men did get the pickup-and-delivery driver spots.

Merritt did eventually get the desired job, but injured her ankle in September 2004. Before she could go back to working on a full-time basis, Old Dominion Freight required Merritt to take a physical ability test, and then fired her when she failed it.

The test, which was used primarily by the trucking company to evaluate new hires, not to gauge the ability of existing employees who had been injured, was designed on a pass/fail basis, and Merritt received an “overall failing grade.” Yet she said that the problems she encountered while taking the test were unrelated to her ankle injury; a company doctor had physically evaluated Merritt, said that her ankle had healed, and declared her fit to return to work.

Additionally, injured male employees at Old Dominion were not compelled to the physical ability test. Merritt also showed the court that the employee who ordered her to take the test, and who fired her afterwards, had previously made discriminatory remarks about women as truck drivers.

After being terminated from her position, Merritt sued the company for sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A lower court had dismissed the case, but recently the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling and remanded the case for trial. It did so unanimously.

In the ruling, the court said that the “alleged facts are too problematic to overlook,” and that “Old Dominion fired an employee who was, according to the district court, ‘able to do her job without assistance and in a satisfactory manner,’ due to a treatable ankle injury, while hiding behind the results of a selectively administered physical fitness test that did not even purport to test the injury, and while dubiously claiming that its decision was compelled by late-blooming policy, all in the context of, to put it mildly, a sexually stereotyped work environment.”

 

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