A federal court in New York dismissed a disability discrimination claim asserted under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) based on allegedly “excessive” drug and alcohol testing of employees after they failed drug or alcohol tests required under the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)’s regulations. Vuono, et al. v. Consolidated Edison of New York, Inc., Case No. 1:18-cv-016365-VEC (S.D.N.Y. June 11, 2019).
Articles Discussing Drugs & Alcohol Under The ADA
Last month, a Washington federal district court judge ordered an employer to pay a terminated employee a little over $1.8 million in damages for failing to accommodate the employee’s use of opioids that had been prescribed to treat her migraines, and for terminating her for a positive drug test result.1 Although employers typically have a right to implement and enforce clear drug-testing policies so as to maintain a safe and productive work environment, the decision underscores the importance of engaging in an interactive process with job applicants and employees and providing reasonable accommodations to those taking prescription drugs for medical conditions.
A federal court in Nevada dismissed a casino employee’s American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) claims — even though he had been treated for substance abuse in the past — because he admitted to current drug use which is not protected under the ADA. Scott v. Harrah’s LLC, No. 2:17-cv-01066-APG-VCF (D. Nev. May 9, 2017).
Prescription drug abuse has made national news in the last few years. In March 2016, President Obama noted that “prescription opioid abuse and [the] heroin epidemic claims the lives of tens of thousands of Americans each year,” and that he was taking more steps to address the epidemic. He stated on Twitter that the “epidemic is harming too many Americans and their families,” but that “treatment works and recovery is possible.”1
An employer that terminated an employee based on its honest belief the employee violated its drug policy was entitled to summary judgment on the employee’s Americans with Disabilities Act claim, according to a Kentucky federal court. The court also granted summary judgment to the employer on the employee’s failure to accommodate and wrongful discharge claims. Adkins v. Excel Mining, LLC, 7:15-cv-00133-ART-EBA (E.D. Ky. Oct. 4, 2016).
A federal district court in the District of Columbia has allowed a bus mechanic to proceed with claims of disability discrimination and retaliation, after he was fired for using Adderall to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”). McFadden v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, CV-12-940 (D.D.C. September 2, 2016).
A federal court in Florida has upheld an employee’s termination due to her “inebriated” conduct that was caused by her use of prescription medications, holding that her discharge did not constitute disability discrimination. Caporicci v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., Case No. 8-14-cv-2131-T-36EAJ (M.D. Fla. May 27, 2016).
It has long been clear that the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) protects alcoholism if it qualifies as a “disability.”1 That said, courts have consistently held that employers can have legitimate work rules that prohibit alcohol use in the workforce. However, the line between having a protected disability and engaging in unprotected misconduct while working can easily become blurred, and employers across all industries likely have struggled over this issue. The distinction is important because protected alcoholics may be entitled to reasonable accommodations under the ADA and state laws.
An employee who was allegedly fired for refusing to admit he had a substance abuse problem presented sufficient evidence to advance his claim under the “regarded as” prong of the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to a Massachusetts federal court. The employer denied terminating the employee or demanding that he admit having a substance abuse problem. The Court granted summary judgment on the employee’s Massachusetts anti-discrimination law claim, applying pre-ADA amendment case law, but denied summary judgment on the ADA claim. Izzo v. Genesco, Inc. d/b/a LIDS, Case No. 14-cv-13607-ADB (D. Mass. Mar. 22, 2016).
Pre-offer drug tests to determine the use of illegal drugs did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act’s prohibition on pre-offer medical inquiries, a federal court in Pennsylvania held on September 15, 2015. EEOC v. Grane Healthcare Co. et ano, CV No. 3:10-250 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 15, 2015).
Executive Summary: The dramatic inconsistency between federal and state law with regard to the use of marijuana may mean that employers with zero tolerance policies for marijuana use will face an increasing likelihood of litigation over the termination of employees who violate such policies.