PHILADELPHIA – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has ruled that a Pennsylvania power plant was justified in terminating an armed security guard with alcohol and mental health issues.

Daryle E. McNelis had filed suit against the Pennsylvania Power & Light Co. seeking to be reinstated.

In rendering its verdict, the federal appeals court stipulated that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s “fitness-for-duty (FFD) and physical protection regulations trump certain employee protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),” and to have kept McNelis on the job would have been in violation of federal safety regulations.

According to the Aug. 15 opinion, in 2012, McNelis was an armed security guard at PPL’s Susquehanna nuclear power when his fitness for the job came into question. In addition to alcohol and drug abuse, attorneys for PPL told the court McNelis grew paranoid that various items in his home were listening devices, prompting his family to leave the home they once shared, the opinion states.

Over time and after advanced observation, the opinion states PPL moved to suspend McNelis' full access of the work facility and later ordered him to submit to an examination by an independent psychologist. PPL severed relations with him after the psychologist deemed he was “not fit for duty.”

Filed in district court, McNelis' suit argued violations of his rights under the ADA because “he was erroneously regarded as having a disability in the form of alcoholism, mental illness and/or illegal drug use, and that this misperception was a motivating factor in his firing.”

In an opinion signed by Judge Thomas M. Hardiman, the appeals court ruled McNelis was no longer qualified to perform the duties of his job because he could not perform the essential functions of a security officer.

The court roundly rejected McNelis’ argument that his termination would have sweeping consequences for those with ADA protections, particularly for workers in sensitive positions in the nuclear industry.

McNelis also argued that his firing amounted to discrimination because PPL typically allows employees the right to regain access before termination.

In its written opinion, the court countered, “'the fact that certain accommodations may have been offered ... to some employees as a matter of good faith did not mean that such accommodations must be extended to every employee as a matter of law.'”

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