74-Year Old Correctional Officer Wins Lawsuit Protesting Mandatory EKG

Rodney Petzak is a 74-year old correctional officer with the Nevada Department of Corrections. As a correctional officer, he must undergo a physical examination each year pursuant to state statute. Under the statute, if an officer has worked for the State for more than five years and develops heart disease, there arises a conclusive presumption that any such disease is work related. To prove fitness for duty, however, officers must submit to an annual physical, including an EKG. Officers over the age of 40 must submit to a stress EKG.

Petzak filed a lawsuit against the State alleging that the requirement that officers over the age of 40 take a stress EKG violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. A federal district court agreed with Petzak.
The Court started its opinion with the proposition that “State-sponsored age classifications are presumptively constitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. The burden is entirely on the challenger of State-sponsored age discrimination to prove that the discrimination is not rationally related to any conceivable legitimate government interest.”

Though the Court found that this test established a “low bar” for constitutionality, it concluded that it was “unable to find any reason for requiring correctional officers over the age of 40 to undergo a stress EKG as part of their annual physical simply because they have reached the age of 40. There is no evidence that demonstrates a reason for requiring a stress EKG over the age of 40. The Court sees the need for EKGs and physicals in general, but nowhere can we divine that the age of 40 is relevant to the legitimate State interest.

“There is a rational basis for requiring stress EKGs of employees in general, but none of the studies state why the age of 40 is the critical age at which to start using stress EKGs. An expert witness referred to several studies demonstrating a relationship between physical exertion and myocardial infarction, but not one of the attached studies supports requiring stress testing for individuals solely because they are 40 years of age.

“The burden is on Petzak to negative any reasonably conceivable set of facts that could demonstrate a rational basis for the stress EKG requirement. We find he has met his burden.”

Petzak v. Nevada Department of Corrections, 2008 WL 4393901 (D.Nev. 2008).

This article appears in the December 2008 issue