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Media Alerts - Daryle McNelis v. Pennsylvania Power & Light Co. - Third Circuit
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August 18, 2017
  Daryle McNelis v. Pennsylvania Power & Light Co. - Third Circuit
Headline: NRC regulations create essential functions required of a qualified individual under the ADA

Area of Law: Employment; Americans with Disabilities Act

Issue(s) Presented: Do NRC regulations create essential functions under the ADA? Should a court question a physician's fitness determination for an employee?

Brief Summary:

As an armed nuclear security officer for Pennsylvania Power & Light Company (PPL), Daryle McNelis had unrestricted access and was authorized to carry a weapon. Federal regulations for nuclear facilities require them to evaluate security officers' fitness for duty, including a high assurance that officers are trustworthy and do not pose any risk to public safety. In 2012, McNelis started to experience mental health problems, as well as alcohol problems. His erratic behavior was reported to a supervisor, who placed McNelis' unrestricted access on hold. A third party psychiatrist evaluated McNelis and concluded that he was not fit for duty. As a result, McNelis was terminated from his position. McNelis brought a suit against PPL claiming that his termination violated the ADA. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment for PPL, concluding that McNelis was not a qualified individual under the ADA because he was unable to perform the essential functions created by the regulations.

Extended Summary:

In 2009, Daryle McNelis began working for the Philadelphia Power & Light Company (PPL) as an armed security officer. In this position, McNelis had unrestricted access to the PPL plant. By 2012, McNelis started to exhibit mental health problems, such as paranoia, as well as a drinking problem. As part of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's regulations, one of McNelis' co-workers reported concerns about McNelis' behavior. As a result, PPL temporarily withdrew McNelis' unrestricted access. McNelis was evaluated by a psychologist, who determined that McNelis was not fit for duty. As a result, PPL terminated McNelis' employment. McNelis filed a suit, claiming that his termination violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The District Court found that his termination was based on the fact that he lacked a mandated job requirement under the NRC.

The Third Circuit affirmed the District Court's grant of summary judgment, finding that McNelis would not be considered a qualified individual under the ADA. In order for someone to satisfy the qualified individual prong, he/she must satisfy the prerequisites for the position and must be able to perform the essential functions of the position. The Court determined that McNelis was unable to perform the essential functions of his position because he did not have unrestricted security access and he was deemed unfit for duty. Both of these things are required in order to work as an armed security guard in a nuclear power plant. The Court determined that the NRC regulations created essential functions of the job under the ADA.

The Court further noted that the NRC has created an employee screening system for certain traits or behaviors that may endanger the public. In doing so, the NRC cannot exempt individuals with disabilities from this screening process, as their priority is to ensure the protection of the public. The ADA applies differently to positions that implicate the public welfare.

In response to one of McNelis' contentions, the Third Circuit concluded that McNelis was given the full opportunity to dispute the evaluation done by Dr. Thompson. The NRC regulations provide for certain review procedures, which allowed McNelis the opportunity to dispute the perceptions of Dr. Thompson and PPL. McNelis was not entitled to more review than the NRC regulations provided, as PPL appropriately followed the procedures that are outlined in the NRC regulations. In addition, the Court determined that even though PPL generally allows employees a chance to comply with treatment recommendations, they are not obligated to do so as a matter of law.

The Third Circuit disagreed with McNelis' assertion that PPL was not entitled to rely on Dr. Thompson's evaluation. Referencing the Supreme Court, the Third Circuit noted that a court should not doubt a physician's evaluation that an employee failed to meet the appropriate regulatory standards for his/her position. In addition, the NRC regulations prohibit PPL from second-guessing the fitness determination after it was made.

The Third Circuit affirmed the judgment of the District Court.

The full opinion can be found at

Panel: Hardiman, Roth, and Fisher, Circuit Judges

Argument Date: May 26, 2017

Date of Issued Opinion: August 15, 2017

Docket Number: No. 16-3883

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Kristina Flatley

Counsel: Ralph Lamar and Marc Weinstein, Counsel for Appellant; Darren Creasy, Counsel for Appellee

Author of Opinion: Circuit Judge Hardiman

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Susan L. DeJarnatt

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 08/18/2017 01:04 PM     3rd Circuit  

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