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A business need not stand trial for violating the Americans With Disabilities Act because it withdrew job offers to workers who failed a test for susceptibility to repetitive stress injury, a federal appeals court has ruled. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a suit against Woodbridge Corp. that claimed the company violated Title I of the ADA by denying assembly line jobs to workers thought to be susceptible to carpal tunnel syndrome. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Woodbridge Corp., No. 01-1045. The Aug. 24 decision is a blow to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which sued on behalf of 19 workers who were offered assembly line jobs by Woodbridge but weren’t hired after posting abnormal results on a nerve-impulse test. The company later discontinued the test after experts expressed doubts about its accuracy. EEOC Attorney Barbara A. Seely, who represented the agency in the lower court, said that the EEOC did not claim that the workers were disabled, because the test was inaccurate. Instead, she said, it argued that Woodbridge regarded the 19 workers as disabled, believing that their test results made them unfit for a wide range of jobs carrying a risk of injury. Employees “regarded as” disabled are protected by the act. The panel upheld summary judgment in favor of Woodbridge, saying that there was no evidence that the manufacturer of foam padding regarded the workers as unfit for any job other than specific assembly line positions. In an interview, one law professor called the ruling “an abuse of the summary judgment process.” Ruth Colker, a law professor at Ohio State University and the author of a casebook on ADA law, said that the decision fit a pattern she found in an analysis of more than 700 cases. The 1999 study found that ADA Title I plaintiffs won less than 7 percent of the time, a success rate so low that it is matched only by prisoners claiming abuse of their rights. She attributed the low success rate to skepticism about Title I on the bench. Judges, she said, keep claims at bay by “setting an inappropriately high evidentiary burden for plaintiffs to defeat summary judgment” and by failing to give the EEOC’s statutory interpretations the proper weight. Colker noted that the EEOC presented admissions by Woodbridge officials that they regarded the workers as unfit for any job carrying a risk of carpal tunnel syndrome, evidence that the court didn’t mention. Woodbridge’s attorney, Michael L. Blumenthal, based in the Kansas City, Mo., office of Atlanta’s Constangy, Brooks & Smith, said that the company did not regard the plaintiffs as disabled. He said that some applicants who failed the test were hired for jobs not on the assembly line. He called the decision a “huge victory for employers across the country.” Peter Susser, a partner at Littler Mendelson in Washington, D.C., said that upholding summary judgment was fully in keeping with Supreme Court precedents requiring federal courts to “narrowly limit the circumstances in which a person excluded from only a small range of jobs can show a disability.”

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