Posted in: Alcohol/drugs, disabilities and safety, new court decision, Special Report
A company decided to take back a conditional offer of employment after it found the applicant was a recovering drug addict. A lawsuit followed.
Here’s what happened: Donald Teaford applied for a job at Hussey Copper in Leetsdale, PA. Teaford was offered a production job at the plant which fabricated copper products. His offer was conditional. First, he needed to pass a physical and drug test conducted at an occupational medical facility, Heritage Valley Health System. All production jobs at Hussey were considered safety-sensitive positions.
During his physical, Teaford didn’t tell the nurse that he was being treated by a doctor at a clinic for dependency on opiates, including Oxycodone, and that he had been prescribed and taking methadone, a drug used to prevent withdrawal symptoms in patients who were addicted to opiates.
His urine tested positive for methadone.
Dr. Daniel Nackley, the Medical Director at Heritage Valley, contacted Teaford, who then said he was under treatment and taking methadone. Nackley received a letter confirming Teaford’s treatment and methadone prescription.
Nackley tried to contact the doctor who prescribed the methadone but wasn’t able to do so.
Hussey’s human resources department looked into possible accommodations for Teaford. However, Hussey’s head of safety said all the production jobs were safety sensitive and an accommodation wouldn’t be possible.
Based on the information he had, Dr. Nackley recommended Hussey should not perform safety-sensitive work.
Hussey’s safety manager decided that Teaford’s offer had to be rescinded because he wasn’t medically cleared to perform safety-sensitive work.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit, alleging that Hussey discriminated against Teaford because he was a recovering addict in a supervised rehab program when it withdrew the conditional offer of employment. It seeks damages and back pay for Teaford.
The EEOC argues that Hussey failed to conduct an individualized assessment of Teaford, as is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Hussey filed a motion to get the case thrown out, claiming that the Teaford’s physical and drug test, along with the analysis from Dr. Nackley, was an individual assessment. It also argued that hiring Teaford would have posed a high probability of substantial harm to himself or others.
The court’s decision: It would not throw out the lawsuit. It will now either have to go to trial or be settled out of court.
The court noted Dr. Nackley acknowledged that every situation involving opiate use is unique, and that a neurological exam was available to make an individual assessment. But a neurological exam wasn’t performed on Teaford.
For that reason, the court said Hussey didn’t conduct the required individual assessment on Teaford.
The take-away for companies: You can set qualifications for safety-sensitive jobs. However, medical professionals have to perform their due diligence to disqualify applicants from a job.
Cite: EEOC v. Hussey Copper, U.S. District court, W.D. PA, No. 08-809, 3/12/10.