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October 14, 2016 11:15 AM, EDT

Appeals Court Rejects Driver's Claim That High BMI Should Not Require Sleep Apnea Study

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An appeals court has rejected claims by an obese truck driver that he should not have been required by his employer to submit to a sleep study to determine if he had sleep apnea.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Crete Carrier Corp. did not violate the rights of truck driver Robert Parker, who after a medical exam was referred to a sleep study because he had a body mass index of “35 or greater.”

The appellate court’s opinion supported a lower federal court ruling dismissing the case.

A body mass index, or BMI, is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to both adult men and women. A person with a BMI of 30 or more is considered obese.

Crete stopped giving Parker work after he refused to submit to a sleep study. Parker alleged that requiring the test for sleep apnea and withholding work was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The carrier said a sleep study is the only way to confirm or rule out an obstructive sleep apnea diagnosis and that an in-lab sleep study is the “gold standard for diagnosing obstructive sleep apnea.”

The appellate court said Crete had a “reasonable basis” for concluding that its drivers pose a safety risk due to a correlation between high BMIs and obstructive sleep apnea and that a sleep study requirement allows Crete to decrease the risk by ensuring that drivers with sleep apnea get treatment.

“The undisputed evidence shows that Crete suspended Parker for refusing to submit to a lawful medical examination,” the court said in its Oct. 12 opinion. “That does not violate the ADA. Since Crete’s stated reason for suspending him was not pretext, Parker’s claim fails.”

In court documents, Parker said that, in June 2014, he was administered a Commercial Driver Fitness Determination examination by his physician, who said Parker “met the standards and qualified for a 2-year certificate,” and that the physician also noted “no concerns with health history. No limitations. No medication.”

Medical advisers to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration until recently have recommended that drivers with BMIs over 35 receive only a conditional Department of Transportation certification and that they undergo an additional examination for obstructive apnea. However, the agency’s Medical Review Board recently revised the recommendation to a BMI of 40 or above as a risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person experiences breathing cessation during sleep, causing  poor sleep quality or other symptoms. FMCSA has said that obstructive sleep apnea causes daytime sleepiness, making drivers more likely to have accidents.

Obstructive sleep apnea can be treated, decreasing the risk of motor vehicle accidents.

Sleep study referrals have been a controversial issue for truck drivers, who say they too often result in huge medical bills and require time off work.