Stella Case No. 060, Originally Published: 16 July 2003
Curtis Shannon was a bus driver for the New York City Transit Authority. About six weeks after starting his job he was involved in a minor accident. Part of the Authority’s normal post-accident procedure required Shannon to get a medical clearance to go back to work, but he failed his eye exam — he was found to be red-green color blind, and unable to distinguish traffic light colors.
Shannon was given an exhaustive series of follow-up tests by several different doctors, including two consulting ophthalmologists not employed by the NYCTA, who confirmed his inability to see color correctly.
Federal law requires that commercial drivers be able to correctly discern the colors in traffic lights. Shannon was thus given a choice: resign his position or be fired. He resigned, but filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming that he was not given “reasonable accommodation” to do his job per the Americans with Disabilities Act — even though he denies being color blind. He also filed suit against the NYCTA claiming discrimination on the basis of the “disability” he denied having.
When the court threw out the suit, Shannon appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals. The appeals court agreed with NYCTA policy — and U.S. Department of Transportation rules for commercial drivers — that a bus driver being able to properly distinguish the color of traffic lights is an “essential function” of a his job, and that a “reasonable accommodation can never involve the elimination of an essential function of a job.”
The court also ruled that the lower court’s finding that Shannon could not distinguish the different colors of traffic lights was reasonable, considering the testimony of several different doctors, and upheld the dismissal of Shannon’s case — to the considerable relief of every pedestrian, driver and bus passenger in the city.
- Decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second District, Docket 02-7266, 13 June 2003
Dismissed, as noted.
My 2021 Thoughts on the Case
It’s amazing that he appealed, since this is such a clear losing argument. And to press an ADA complaint (over “a ‘disability’ he denied having”!) is truly over the top.
The classic Act of God case:
Russell in Texas: “I wonder if [the plaintiff’s lawyer] Mr. Ebner has a weather report posted near his office door so those exiting his office will know to expect potential lightning strikes in his parking lot.”
Ted in Pennsylvania: “Randy, PLEASE tell me this moron Shawn Perkins and his lawyer didn’t get any money out of that lawsuit. I have read previous situations in your newsletter that have been amusing and absurd, but this has to be a sign of the Apocalypse. Who among us hasn’t been caught in the rain at an amusement park? If King’s Island is supposed to be responsible to let people know it might rain, where is Perkins’ responsibility to look up in the sky if he can’t afford to look at the Weather Channel himself? I live in trial lawyer central, here in Pennsylvania, but this is beneath anything we see here. The simple fact he was in Ohio in June should have been a tip-off that lightning was a possibility. Please keep us posted on the outcome of this debacle, so we can send money to help Kings’ Island defend themselves.”
The legal system is nothing if not slow, but if I hear of an outcome in this case, you can be sure I’ll report on it.
Stan in Oklahoma: “The very idea that the park should warn you of every single danger is absolutely absurd. ‘Warning Please do not stare into the sun as this may cause blindness!’ Do we really need that sort of thing? It would take all day to read a list of warnings for all the things that could happen to you in the park or in the parking lot. What’s next? Are homebuilders required to generate a list of all possible dangers to you from a home they build? Does the power company have to post all the warnings next to all power outlets? Must the water company write up a list and etch it on your toilet? I’m afraid that if I were ever sitting on a jury like that, I wouldn’t be able to contain my laughter when the charges were read.”
Jerry, a writer in Washington: “Kings Island has taken reasonable steps to protect patrons from lightning strikes: they have erected an enormous lightning rod in the middle of the park, cleverly disguised as a one-third scale replica of the Eiffel Tower.” Bart, a Studio Assistant in Queensland, Australia: “The lawyer makes the claim that the weather was predictable. The instant and obvious counter to this claim is would he care to verify and confirm all forthcoming weather, and personally guarantee all outcomes regarding weather? What preposterous nonsense!”
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