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Hiring Ban After Failed Drug Test and the ADA

June 5, 2011
Related Topics: Miscellaneous Legal Issues, Medical Benefits Law, Featured Article, Benefits

Santiago Lopez’s job application as a longshore worker in California with the Pacific Maritime Association was rejected in 1997 when he tested positive for marijuana during a pre-employment drug screen.

Lopez claims to have been addicted to alcohol and drugs at the time, but that the defendant was unaware of his addiction. Lopez underwent rehabilitation in 2002 and has been sober since, according to court records. Lopez reapplied for a longshore position in 2004, but, under the association’s “one-strike rule,” was denied employment because of his previous positive test result. Lopez sued in federal court, claiming that the association violated the Americans With Disabilities Act and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act by discriminating against him based on his protected status as a rehabilitated drug addict.

A U.S. District Court in Los Angeles dismissed Lopez’s claim, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed the decision. The 9th Circuit held that Lopez cannot show that the “one-strike” rule discriminates against recovered addicts because “the rule eliminates all candidates who test positive for drug use,” regardless of the cause. The court also stated that because the association bargained for the one-strike rule with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union after numerous serious job-site accidents attributed in part to drug and alcohol use, “nothing about the history of the one-strike rule leads us to conclude that defendant [the association] adopted the rule with a discriminatory purpose.” Lopez v. Pacific Maritime Association, 9th Cir. 09-55698 (March 2, 2011).

Impact: A rule that bars hiring or rehiring employees who have tested positive for drugs, even if it affects an employee who may otherwise be protected under the ADA or similar state statutes, does not violate those acts.

Workforce Management, May 2011, p. 10 -- Subscribe Now!

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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