Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal


Chika Duru


Recently, numerous athletes, particularly football players, have fallen ill and some have even died from exercise related health complications linked to the sickle cell trait they carry. Not surprisingly, the affected athletes' families or estates have received large court judgments in connection with their injuries, and after a few such judgments at the collegiate athletic level, the National Collegiate Athletic Association recently instituted mandatory sickle cell trait testing for every incoming division I student-athlete.

Though the mandatory sickle cell trait testing appears permissible at the collegiate level, this article examines the potential consequences of a similar policy at the professional level, specifically the National Football League. Because sickle cell trait disproportionately affects African Americans, and because NFL teams, in an effort to limit their potential tort liability, would likely offer sickle cell trait carrier players less lucrative or shorter contracts, or both, this article examines the affected players' potential claims for race-based employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Specifically, this article posits that African-American players in the NFL could bring employment discrimination claims based on the disparate impact theory of liability if the NFL mandates sickle cell trait testing and its teams take any number of likely actions that would affect the compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of the affected players' employment.

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