Shell v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co., No. 19-1030 (7th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
Shell began working at Chicago’s Corwith Rail Yard in 1977. By 2010, BSNF owned Corwith Yard; Shell worked for BNSF's contractor. BNSF assumed the railyard’s operations itself, terminating the employment of those who worked for the contractor. BNSF invited those employees to apply for new positions. Shell applied to work as an intermodal equipment operator, a “safety-sensitive” position, which required the employee to climb on railcars to insert and remove locking devices, drive trucks that move trailers, and operate cranes to load and unload containers. BNSF extended a conditional offer of employment, requiring that Shell pass a medical evaluation. Shell had a body-mass index of 47.5. BNSF does not hire applicants for safety-sensitive positions if their BMI is 40 or greater (class III obesity). BNSF believes that someone with class III obesity could unexpectedly experience a debilitating health episode and lose consciousness while operating dangerous equipment. BNSF informed Shell of his disqualification but told him that his application could be reconsidered if he lost at least 10% of his weight and maintained the weight loss for at least six months. Shell sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The district court denied BNSF’s motion for summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed. With only proof that BNSF refused to hire him because of a fear that he would develop an impairment, Shell has not established that BNSF regarded him as having a disability or that he is otherwise disabled.