Nuclear plant guard deemed unfit can't sue over firing, court rules

A former armed security guard at a PPL nuclear plant who was deemed psychologically unfit for duties has struck out in his attempt to pursue an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit against the power company.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit denied Daryle McNelis’ appeal of a federal judge’s summary dismissal of his lawsuit against PPL.

The company stripped Mr. McNelis of his security clearance and ultimately fired him for failing a mental fitness test. The test was given to him after the company learned he allegedly took bath salts, an illegal synthetic drug, and was paranoid that he was under constant surveillance. According to Third Circuit Judge Thomas Hardiman’s opinion, Mr. McNelis believed his children’s toys hid listening devices and he said he would kill whoever was spying on him.

“Although we are the first court of appeals to address the interplay between the ADA and these [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] regulations, our opinion is supported by a broad consensus among district courts that nuclear power plant employees who have lost security clearance or have been deemed not fit for duty are not qualified employees under the ADA,” Judge Hardiman said.

Mr. McNelis argued that the court siding with PPL would weaken “the protections of the ADA for workers in sensitive positions within the nuclear industry.”

“Contrary to McNelis’ characterization, this is a feature — not a bug — of the nuclear regulatory scheme,” Judge Hardiman said. “Presumably because of the sensitive nature of the work, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission made a policy judgment that for a limited number of jobs, nuclear power plants must screen employees for certain traits and behaviors that may endanger the public.”

Judge Hardiman added, “The NRC regulations do not exempt individuals with disabilities, and indeed, it would be strangely ineffective for them to do so; the fact that a certain trait or behavior coincides with a recognized disability does not make it any less dangerous to the public. To the contrary, NRC regulations explicitly require nuclear power plants to screen for traits and behaviors in a manner that in other contexts may violate the ADA.”

In a footnote at the end of the opinion, Judge Hardiman wrote that he noted the “incoherence” of Mr. McNelis’ argument that his firing over being unfit for duty was a cover for the real motive for his termination: that he was using bath salts and had psychological issues.

Fort Washington-based lawyer Marc E. Weinstein represented Mr. McNelis.

“The struggle to broaden and strengthen employee rights has endured for generations. Ultimately, despite the frequent setbacks, the struggle resolves in favor of justice and in favor of human dignity,” Mr. Weinstein said in an email.

“While we maintain great respect for the deciding jurists and opposing counsel in this case,” he continued, “we are disappointed by the panel’s ruling and are considering further options. Irrespective, whether it be on behalf of those with disabilities, those of same-sex orientation, or others who have been customarily marginalized in the workforce, one day we shall overcome.”

Alfred Johnston represented PPL and did not respond to a request for comment.

P.J. D’Annunzio: 215-557-2315 or On Twitter @PJDannunzioTLI. To read more articles like this, visit

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