The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) appears to be sending a message to employers: You can’t automatically refuse to hire applicants who test positive for methadone, a medication prescribed in drug treatment programs for recovering opiate addicts.
The EEOC is suing United Insurance Company of America for disability discrimination. The lawsuit claims United Insurance violated federal disability law when it refused to hire an applicant at its Raleigh, NC, office because he was a recovering drug addict.
In January 2010, United Insurance offered Craig Burns, a recovering addict, a job as an agent, pending a drug test.
Burns’ test showed methadone in his system. He submitted a letter to United Insurance from his treatment provider explaining he was in a supervised methadone treatment program.
After receiving that information, United Insurance withdrew its employment offer.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), “recovering addictions” are considered disabilities.
The EEOC tried to reach a voluntary settlement with United Insurance. When that didn’t happen, the agency filed suit in U.S. District Court. The EEOC seeks back pay and compensatory and punitive damages.
Second recent suit
EEOC lawsuits over discrimination against recovering addicts are rare. But earlier this year, the agency won an $85,000 settlement in a similar case.
Donald Teaford applied for a job at Hussey Copper in Leetsdale, PA. He was offered a production job, but first he had to pass a physical and drug test. All production jobs at Hussey were considered safety-sensitive positions.
Teaford tested positive for methadone. Hussey’s head of safety said an accommodation for Teaford wouldn’t be possible.
The EEOC filed a lawsuit, claiming that Hussey failed to conduct an individual assessment of Teaford, as required by the ADA. The company tried to get the suit thrown out, noting that it consulted a physician about Teaford’s case.
The court refused to throw out the case. The doctor had noted that a neurological exam was available to make an individual assessment, but the exam wasn’t performed on Teaford.
The case went to trial, but before a decision was rendered, Hussey agreed to a settlement.
Hussey agreed to pay Teaford $85,000 and to hire him as a mason utility laborer.
The key for employers: You can’t have a blanket policy that rejects recovering addicts on methadone for employment. However, individual assessments can rule out such applicants.
A side note: The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration considers methadone a medically disqualifying medication for a commercial motor vehicle drivers’ license.
What are your thoughts on these cases? Let us know in the comments below.