A female truck driver who was terminated after being given a physical test not required of her male colleagues can pursue a claim of sex discrimination, a federal appeals court has ruled.
According to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a ruling April 7 in Deborah Merritt v. Old Dominion Freight Line Inc., Merritt had worked six years as a “line haul” driver for Thomasville, North Carolina-based Old Dominion and often made lengthy cross-country trips.
She sought a transfer to a position as a pickup-and-delivery truck driver because it meant more regular hours, but was passed over twice in favor of less experienced men. There are about six female pickup-and-delivery drivers among 3,100 men in this position at Old Dominion Freight, according to court documents.
Merritt eventually was moved to a pickup-and-delivery job but hurt her ankle in September 2004. Although the company’s doctor reported the ankle was healed in December of that year, Old Dominion Freight required that she take a physical ability test used primarily to evaluate new hires before she could return to full-time work.
Merritt, who received an “overall failing grade” on the pass/fail test, said the problems she had were with tasks unrelated to her ankle injury.
Her job was terminated and Merritt sued the company for sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In its ruling, the Richmond, Virginia-based appeals court panel unanimously overturned the ruling of a lower court, which had dismissed the case, and remanded it for trial.
The “alleged facts are too problematic to overlook,” the appeals court said in its ruling. “Old Dominion fired an employee who was, according to the district court, ‘able to do her job without assistance and in a satisfactory manner,’ due to a treatable ankle injury, while hiding behind the results of a selectively administered physical fitness test that did not even purport to test the injury, and while dubiously claiming that its decision was compelled by a late-blooming policy, all in the context of, to put it mildly, a sexually stereotyped work environment.”