Echazabal vs. Chevron

Mario Echazabal began working at a Chevron oil refinery located in El Segundo, California in 1972. He was employed through several midsentence contractors and worked mostly in the Coker unit. The Coker unit refers to an oil processing unit, which converts residual oil from atmospheric distillation columns. It cracks the complex hydrogen molecules to simpler ones. (www.ask.com/question/what-is-a-coker-in-a-refinery).

After twenty years of working for these different contractors, Mario saw an opportunity arise for benefits and stability by being employed directly through Chevron, rather than these maintence contractors. He applied for the position. He would be at the exact same location that he is presently working. Chevron determined that he was suitable for the position and offered him a job. He was ordered to have a pre-employment physical completed by Chevron’s regional physician. The results of this physical showed that Echazabals liver was not functioning properly.

There were certain enzymes that were being released at a higher than normal rate. Chevron’s officials believed that the cause of this liver problem could be due to the exposure of the elements in the Coker unit. Chevron then revoked the job offer.

Echazabal went back to work for the contractor he was currently employed through, a company called Irwin Industries, despite the findings of Chevron’s physician. No attempt was ever made to remove him from this position on Chevron’s behalf. He consulted with several doctors and eventually Echazabal was diagnosed with active Chronic Hepatitis C. He received ongoing medical treatment and advised his physicians of the job he did and the atmosphere to which he was exposed. Even one of the physicians was provided with detailed information about the environmental hazards that were present in the atmosphere in which Echazabal was working. He was never told to stop working by a medical professional.

Again in 1995, the opportunity arose for Echazabal to become an employee of Chevron. He again applied and was offered the position in the beginning based on the passing of a pre-employment physical. He was not able to pass the physical, so Chevron rescinded the offer once the results came back. However, unlike the first time, Chevron told Irwin Industries that Echazabal needed to be removed from the Coker unit immediately and placed in a position that he would not be exposed to chemicals.

After losing this position, Echazabal filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and in State Court against Chevron and Irwin Industries. This suit alleged discrimination based on disability, a clear violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Echazabal’s suit was originally thrown out. http://www.accessiblesociety.org/topics/ada/echazabal1.htm

The U.S. Court of Appeals sided with Echazabal. They called Chevron’s actions paternalistic. On appeal, Chevron stated that they based their decision not to hire Echazabal on the facts that the elements would pose a direct threat to his own health and his life. The Bush Administration supported Chevron’s decision. At this point, the court ruled in favor of Echazabal under the ADA rules.

Under the American’s with Disabilities Act, employers are prohibited from using standards based on ones disabilities. Echazabal’s health problems were not affecting or causing direct harm to anyone besides himself. The term “direct threat” provision does not include threats to oneself. It does, however cost more for an employer to hire and retain employees with disabilities than employees without disabilities.

Chevron argues that Congress must be ignored. They believe that Congress’s intent is to force employers to hire people with health problems and ones that pose a risk to themselves. Congress was simply following what the ADA provision says. Congress concluded that they were discriminating based on overprotective rules and policies.

Chevron had to protect their company. While Echazabal was obviously qualified to do the job that he had been doing for the last 20 years, his health prevented him from doing so. Had he not applied to work directly for Chevron though, how long would he have continued to work for the contractors while having the disease?

He was now aware that he had this serious problem, it is not going to go away. He should accept the fact, taken the position within the company that would not expose him to the harmful chemicals and he would still have a job. There were several doctors that were involved in reviewing the health of Mario Echazabal. His own treating physician reported to one of the other doctors that exposure to “hepatotoxic hydrocarbons” was not recommended.

Not one single doctor disagreed with the findings. Likewise, Echazabal never offered any advice or evidence showing anything different. Another doctor, one for Echazabal’s current employer Irwin Industries came out and said that Mario’s condition will be worsened by continued exposure, up to and including death. Lab tests showed reasonable evidence to not give him the job.

Several appeals have been filed in this case. One was a Rehabilitation Act claim, a California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act claim and a claim that Chevron intentionally interfered with Echazabal’s employment with Irwin Industries. In Judge Trott’s dissent it says that a conflict has been created with the Eleventh Circuit. This conflict will now cause either the Supreme Court or Congress to resolve the issues. Unless they can do so with an en banc review.

I feel that this case is a good example as to why employers should do pre-employment testing and physicals. Some people do not go to the doctor and are not aware of any health concerns or issues that they may have. To be hired by an employer, that employer needs to be protected from any sort of liability or lawsuit that an employee employer hires someone who in fact has medical problems, at least the employer knows. If no testing is done in the beginning and employees like Echazabal working in conditions that are hazardous could sue their employer stating they are now sick from working around chemicals and in an environment that is not suitable.

However, in reality that employee was already sick and had health problems that were undiagnosed. I do not feel as if a lawsuit should have ever been filed in court. I do disagree that after the first time Echazabal applied to work for Chevron that they continued to allow him to work in the Coker unit and did nothing to get him out of that position. They should have had him removed at that time rather than allowing him to continue to work. What if he would not have applied a second time with Chevron?

Echazabal was diagnosed with his liver disease, he was aware of this. He was offered to keep his job at the company that he was currently working for just in a different position. He refused to do this. I understand that after working in the same position for 20 plus years that is what he wanted to do. His health should have come first and he should have voluntarily stepped down. Whether he was a direct threat to just himself or to others, it was obvious that he had a love and passion for the job he did. Echazabal never once failed doing the job that he did for so long. If he did Chevron would never have offered him a position with them.

There is a law under California Labor Code that forbids an employer from putting an employee in harm’s way. If Echazabal was going to win any sort of lawsuit, I would think that this is where he would win. He applied not only one time, but twice. The first time, Chevron allowed him to continue to work and endanger himself. Why did they continue to allow him to work if they knew he had health problems and he was ill?