Search form

Employees' ADA Claims on Prescription-Drug-Use Dismissals Rejected by Federal Court

By Scott A. Carroll, Mark A. de Bernardo and Matthew F. Nieman
  • December 1, 2010

 

Ruling that only persons with disabilities can pursue claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act’s provisions on qualification tests and standards (42 U.S.C. §§ 12112(a) and (b)(6)), the federal appeal court in Cincinnati upheld an employer’s dismissal of seven employees for testing positive for prescription-drug use.  Bates v. Dura Automotive Systems, Inc., No. 09-6351 (6th Cir. Nov. 3, 2010).  Notwithstanding that some provisions of the ADA generally has been interpreted to cover non-disabled individuals who are discriminated against (e.g., a “perception” of disability), the Court said it based its conclusion on a straightforward reading of the statute and noted that its interpretation was consistent with that of the Fifth Circuit’s (citing Fuzy v. S&B Engineers & Constructors Ltd., 332 F.3d 301, 14 AD Cases 676 (5th Cir. 2003)).  (The Court had previously ruled in another case that the 2008 amendments to the ADA did not apply retroactively.  Thus, they were inapplicable in this case.) The Sixth Circuit has jurisdiction over Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.

The Facts of the Case

The Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, plant of Dura Automotive Systems, an auto-parts manufacturer, had a high accident rate (compared to similar manufacturing plants).  The plant implemented a 12-panel drug-test program in which banned substances included prescription drugs known to cause impairment and, thus, create safety risks (e.g., Xanax, Lortab, and Oxycodone). Seven employees tested positive for legal substances banned by the program.

All employees who tested positive for banned prescription drugs are given the option of switching to other drugs not containing the banned substances.  After the seven employees tested positive again for the banned substances, they were terminated.

The employees sued, claiming the drug-testing program violated the ADA.  The company argued the plaintiffs had no standing to sue under the statute.  The trial court disagreed and held the plaintiffs had standing to sue under the ADA’s provisions on qualification tests and standards (42 U.S.C. §§ 12112(a) and (b)(6)).

Plain Text of Statute

The Sixth Circuit reversed the lower court and ordered dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims under the ADA because “the plain text of subsection (b)(6) only covers individuals with disabilities.”  It ruled, “A straightforward reading of this statute compels the conclusion that only a ‘qualified individual with a disability’ is protected from the prohibited form of discrimination described in subsection (b)(6) – the use of qualification standards and other tests that tend to screen out disabled individuals.”

Job-relatedness and Business Necessity Exceptions

Judge Boyce F. Martin, Jr., on behalf of the Court, wrote, “[W]e endeavor to read statutes and regulations with an eye to their straightforward and common sense meanings. When we can discern an unambiguous and plain meaning from the language of a statute, our task is at an end.”  Thus, the Court did not address whether Dura’s prescription-drug-testing and terminations fell within the exception in the ADA’s non-discrimination standards of “job-relatedness” and “consistent with business necessity.”

Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to answer inquiries regarding this case and other workplace laws.

 

©2010 Jackson Lewis P.C. This Update is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice nor does it create an attorney/client relationship between Jackson Lewis and any readers or recipients. Readers should consult counsel of their own choosing to discuss how these matters relate to their individual circumstances. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited without the express written consent of Jackson Lewis.

This Update may be considered attorney advertising in some states. Furthermore, prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Jackson Lewis P.C. represents management exclusively in workplace law and related litigation. Our attorneys are available to assist employers in their compliance efforts and to represent employers in matters before state and federal courts and administrative agencies. For more information, please contact the attorney(s) listed or the Jackson Lewis attorney with whom you regularly work.

See AllRelated Articles You May Like

February 10, 2016

Zika Virus Concerns in the Workplace

February 10, 2016

A global health alarm on the outbreak of a disease or virus raises issues for employers and employees as to the appropriate workplace responses. In recent years, Avian flu, swine flu (H1N1), and Ebola drew workplace concerns. Now, the mosquito-borne Zika virus has the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health... Read More

February 5, 2016

Puerto Rico Supreme Court Scolds Employer for Interfering with Working Mother’s Breastfeeding Rights

February 5, 2016

Emphasizing that Puerto Rico legislation protects employees’ breastfeeding rights in the workplace and that maternity enjoys special judicial protection in the Commonwealth’s legal framework, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court has ruled that employers, public and private, regardless of their circumstances, must provide a “... Read More

February 4, 2016

Retail Employer Workplace News - Winter 2016

February 4, 2016

Top Five OSHA Changes to Watch for in 2016 Retailers should stay tuned in the year ahead to the busy agenda of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as it attempts to finalize significant rulemakings and guidance documents. OSHA initiatives on electronic injury and illness recordkeeping, employer safety incentive... Read More