Union Pacific Railroad Workers Represented by Nichols Kaster, PLLP File Class Action Complaint Alleging Systematic Violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act

On February 19, 2016, six current and former employees of Union Pacific Railroad Company filed a class action lawsuit in the Western District of Washington at Seattle (Case No. CV15-1865JCC), asserting that Union Pacific engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C § 12101 et seq.

The case[1] alleges that Union Pacific has put numerous long-time employees out of work due to their actual or perceived disabilities even though they could perform their jobs. The suit explains that Union Pacific requires certain employees to disclose particular health events or conditions. Once an employee makes such a disclosure, Union Pacific removes the employee from service and conducts a so-called “Fitness-for-Duty” procedure, but the employees allege that this evaluation does not assess whether an employee can perform the essential functions of their job. The employee is not even physically evaluated, and Union Pacific routinely disregards the opinions of treating doctors who do evaluate the employee. Instead, Union Pacific collects extensive medical information from the employee and conducts a “file review” of the information. Plaintiffs allege that Union Pacific then mines the medical information and disqualifies the employees from service—either by deeming them “medically disqualified” or by issuing permanent, unnecessary work restrictions that it then refuses to accommodate.

The six named plaintiffs allege that Union Pacific discriminated against them through this “Fitness-for-Duty” protocol. The plaintiffs include the following employees, all of whom were taken out of service by Union Pacific:

  • An individual who has had a pacemaker for more than 20 years as a Union Pacific employee, who had never had a work-related incident as a result;
  • An individual with fully-controlled epilepsy who had never had a work-related incident as a result;
  • An individual who had lightheadedness on a few isolated incidents outside of work;
  • An individual with a fully-controlled heart condition who never had a work-related incident;
  • An individual with fully-controlled seizure disorder; and
  • An Iraq War veteran formerly diagnosed with PTSD who never had a work incident as a result.

Plaintiffs seek to certify a class of: “Individuals who were removed from service over their objection, and/or suffered another adverse employment action, during their employment with Union Pacific for reasons related to a Fitness-for-Duty evaluation at any time from 300 days before the earliest date that a named Plaintiff filed an administrative charge of discrimination to the resolution of this action.”

Plaintiffs’ Counsel James H. Kaster stated, “Our clients were capable of performing the essential functions of their jobs, and in fact were doing their jobs safely for a long time. In most cases, they had never had a work related incident as a result of their conditions, and their treating doctors informed Union Pacific they were fit to work. Nevertheless, Union Pacific apparently stopped them from working because they had once been diagnosed with certain conditions. Railroads are not exempt from the Americans with Disabilities Act and the ADA prohibits discrimination against disabled employees who can perform the essential functions of their jobs.”

The plaintiffs are represented by James H. Kaster, David E. Schlesinger, Bonnie M. Smith, Nicholas D. Thompson and Charles A. Delbridge of Nichols Kaster, PLLP; Bradley W. Wahrlich and Kristoffer S. Mayfield of Hildebrand McLeod and Nelson; and Joseph A. Grube and Karen K. Orehoski of Breneman Grube Orehoski, PLLC.


[1] The Complaint was originally filed as an individual action on behalf of Plaintiff Quinton Harris only. It was amended on February 19 to include class allegations and the claims of the five other named plaintiffs.