Questions about company's testing of workers for legal drugs head to trial
Case name: Bates v. Dura Automotive Systems, Inc., No. 1:08-0029 (M.D. Tenn. 03/30/11).
The U.S. District Court, Middle District of Tennessee denied summary judgment to an automotive manufacturing company and several workers on the workers' claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 related to the company's drug testing for legal prescription drugs.
What it means: Under the ADA of 1990, an employer may not require a medical examination unless it is job-related and consistent with business necessity. According to this court, urinalysis and similar testing -- outside of testing for illegal drugs -- may constitute a medical examination under the ADA.
Summary: An automotive manufacturing company became concerned that legal and illegal drug use by workers was leading to workplace accidents. Because of this, the company began a drug testing program for certain substances, including some found in legal prescription drugs. Workers who failed the test had to provide a list of all prescription medications they were taking. If any of the medications carried warnings about impaired mental alertness or the operation of equipment or machinery, the worker was placed on a leave of absence to transition to different medication. Several workers who failed the test due to legal prescription drugs sued under the ADA of 1990. The District Court ruled that the workers' claims could go forward even though only one had a viable claim that she had a disability under the ADA. The court denied summary judgment to the company and the workers, sending the case to trial.
The company argued that even if the workers were subjected to an impermissible medical examination, the test was not the proximate cause of harm to the workers. The court found this argument "without merit," explaining that the workers were placed on unpaid leave of absence, which a reasonable jury could consider an "injury." Additionally, the court explained that federal law suggests that testing for drugs other than illegal drugs constitutes a medical examination under the ADA. Whether the test was job-related and consistent with business necessity was a question for jury consideration in the court's view. The existence of these triable issues defeated the employees' motion for summary judgment.
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May 26, 2011
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