United States: Eighth Circuit Upholds Trucking Company's Sleep Study Requirement Based On Driver BMI

Last Updated: October 19 2016
Article by Nancy N. Delogu

On October 12, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit found in favor of a large transportation employer's driver sleep study testing requirement in a lawsuit challenging the practice under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The plaintiff driver in Parker v. Crete Carrier Corporation alleged that his employer violated the ADA by adopting a program requiring a class of its truck drivers, which included him, to undergo in-lab sleep studies.1 After medical advisory recommendations made to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) linked obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) to an increased risk of vehicle crashes, the employer implemented the sleep study requirement using driver Body Mass Index (BMI) as the sole criteria for participation. The plaintiff refused to participate, and claimed that the sleep study requirement was an unlawful medical examination. He also alleged that the employer discriminated against him on the basis of a perceived disability, OSA, after it suspended him. The Eighth Circuit, however, rejected his arguments, concluding that the employer's program reasonably identified a class of drivers at risk for OSA and that the testing itself was job-related and consistent with business necessity. The decision is particularly important to the transportation industry, which has struggled with whether, and how, to address sleep apnea among commercial drivers in particular. However, the Eighth Circuit's decision is actually important to employers outside of the transportation industry as it provides a clear roadmap on what any employer must do to ensure that its medical testing program meets ADA requirements.

Medical Exams under the ADA

The ADA generally prohibits employers from requiring employees to submit to medical examinations or inquiries unless those examinations or inquiries are "shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity."2 The employer's policy in Parker required a sleep study for any driver with a BMI of 35 or greater. The plaintiff, who met this criterion, did not dispute that sleep studies might be appropriate for some drivers, but alleged that the employer violated the law when it failed to consider his individual characteristics in requiring him to participate in the study. Specifically, the driver argued that because he had a good safety record, had no documented sleep issues at work, and had recently received a Department of Transportation (DOT) medical certification, he should not be subject to the testing requirement. When his employer declined to excuse him from participation in the sleep study, he obtained a note from his private physician stating that the physician did not personally think a sleep study was necessary. However, despite the fact that the driver submitted his own physician's note, he was still required to undergo the sleep study.

Rejecting the argument that decisions to seek medical information from employees must be made on an individualized basis, the court confirmed that medical examinations may be lawfully required of a class of workers, as long as the employer has a "reasonable basis for concluding that the class poses a genuine safety risk and the exam requirement allows the employers to decrease that risk effectively."3

OSA, Safety and Diagnostic Sleep Studies

Through the admission of evidence, including expert testimony, the employer was able to establish critical facts in support of its program. Specifically, the employer demonstrated that: (1) untreated OSA markedly increases the risk of accidents; (2) an in-lab sleep study is the best way to prove or disprove an OSA diagnosis; (3) obesity (as expressed in terms of BMI) is the primary anatomic risk factor and is closely correlated with a diagnosis of OSA; and (4) OSA can be treated, thereby reducing the accident risk otherwise associated with the condition.

Based on the employer's showing, the Eighth Circuit concluded that the sleep study requirement was job-related "because it deals with a condition that impairs drivers' abilities to operate their vehicles."4 The court further held that the requirement was "consistent with business necessity" because it would "determine whether an individual has [OSA], a condition that poses a public safety hazard."5 The court went on to find that the sleep study itself "is no broader or more intrusive than necessary" because an in-lab exam is the best way to diagnose OSA. The court agreed the scope of the employer's program was reasonable "given the correlation between high BMIs and [OSA]" and because the tests enabled the employer to decrease the safety risk posed by drivers with OSA by ensuring that affected drivers received treatment.

Rejecting the plaintiff's argument that his individual attributes merited an exception from the sleep study requirement, the court noted that none of the plaintiff's other individual attributes "establish that he does not suffer from sleep apnea" or otherwise undermine his employer's "reasonable basis for concluding that he poses a genuine safety risk."6 The court's ruling confirmed that the sleep study requirement was lawful under the ADA, affirming a Nebraska district court's grant of summary judgment for the employer on the medical-examination claim.

The Eighth Circuit also briefly addressed the plaintiff's alternative argument that his suspension for refusing the sleep study was unlawful because his employer regarded him as having an impairment, conduct prohibited by the ADA. The plaintiff had alleged that his employer regarded him as having OSA, that he was a qualified employee, and that the employer wrongfully suspended him for refusing to undergo an unlawful medical examination. Even assuming that the employee had satisfied the threshold requirements to state a claim, the court found that he could not prevail, because the sleep study requirement itself did not violate the ADA, and therefore, the employee's refusal to submit to the sleep study was a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the suspension. According to the Parker decision, the employer was well within its rights to impose, and enforce, the in-lab sleep study requirement.

Of course, sleep study requirements, and resultant mandatory OSA treatments, remain controversial not only because of discrimination concerns, but also because of their high costs and potential intrusiveness. This debate will surely intensify as the FMSCA and Federal Railroad Administration explore possible new rules addressing OSA among commercial drivers and rail workers.7 Setting aside the debate over OSA detection and treatment, however, the Eighth Circuit's precedent in Parker offers a remarkably clear outline of how any employer may establish and, if necessary, defend mandatory medical testing programs that comply with the ADA.


1. The Eighth Circuit's opinion can be found at: http://media.ca8.uscourts.gov/opndir/16/10/161371P.pdf.

2. 42 U.S.C. § 12112(d)(4)(A).

3. Parker, No. 16-1371, slip op. at 7 (8th Cir. Oct. 12, 2016).

4. Id. at 8.

5. Id.

6. Id. at 8–9.

7. Press Release, FMSCA, U.S. DOT Seeks Input on Screening and Treating Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers and Rail Workers with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (Mar. 8, 2016), available at: https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/newsroom/us-dot-seeks-input-screening-and-treating-commercial-motor-vehicle-drivers-and-rail-workers. The deadline for public commentary in response to the advance notice of proposed rulemaking has passed.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Nancy N. Delogu
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.