ADA Plaintiffs Lose in Closely Watched Drug Testing Case

The seven plaintiffs chose to challenge their employer's testing policy under the Americans with Disabilities Act and lost before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals because they are not disabled.

A recent decision by a panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is significant for employers in that circuit -- encompassing Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee -- because the seven plaintiffs challenging their employer's drug testing policy under the Americans with Disabilities Act lost because they are not disabled. The three-judge panel said non-disabled people may bring claims under some sections of the ADA, but the section at issue here, section 12112(b)(6), bars discrimination against a "qualified individual with a disability because of the disability."

DATIA, the Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association, highlighted the Nov. 3 decision in its latest e-newsletter.

The plaintiffs worked for Dura Automotive Systems Inc.'s Lawrenceburg, Tenn., manufacturing plant. Dura became concerned the plants' workforce was experiencing more accidents than comparable plants, so management implemented a policy barring employees from using 12 substances found in legal prescription drugs if the use adversely affected safety, company property, or job performance, according to the decision. The seven plaintiffs tested positive and had prescriptions for a drug containing one of the substances; Dura gave each one the opportunity to transition to drugs without the prohibited substances but would not consider physicians' letters asserting work performance would not be affected, the opinion states. When the employees continue taking the same drugs, Dura terminated them.

The case did not go to trial in a lower court because the district court certified the question of whether 12112(b)(6) plaintiffs must be disabled for a decision by the appeals court.

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