Were You Fired for Prescription Medicine?
The Case: Bates v. Dura Automotive Systems, Inc.
In 2007, Dura banned its employees from taking certain prescription medications, including hydrocodone and oxycodone, and forced employees to undergo mandatory drug-testing. Several Dura employees were terminated because of their use of lawfully prescribed medications.
The terminated employees (the plaintiffs) sued Dura alleging the company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by subjecting them to unlawful drug testing and they were terminated because of their disabilities.
What The ADA Has To Say About Drug-Testing
The ADA prohibits employers from requiring “medical examination” or from “making inquiries of an employee as to whether such employee is an individual with a disability” unless the employer can prove the examination or disability inquiry is job-related and consistent with business necessity. This broad protection reflects Congress’s effort to prevent questioning that would serve to identify and exclude persons with disabilities from consideration for employment. The ADA, however, does not define “medical examination” or “disability inquiry.”
District Court Finds Dura’s Drug-Tests Are Medical Examinations
In Dura, the district court concluded Dura’s drug-testing policies were a medical examination or disability inquiry as a matter of law under the ADA. The jury was only asked to determine whether the drug tests were job-related and consistent with business necessity; the jury concluded Dura’s drug-testing policies were not and sided with the plaintiffs.
The Sixth Circuit Reverses And Remands The Jury’s Decision
The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded the jury verdict—saying the jury, not the district court, should have determined whether Dura’s drug-testing policies were a medical examination or disability inquiry under the ADA. The next jury will have to resolve whether Dura inquired into employees’ health conditions or whether the information about legal drug use inevitably disclosed to Dura the nature of its employees’ impairments or disabilities.
Implications For Employers and Employees
Employers must be careful when attempting to regulate their employees’ use of prescription medications. If an employer’s policy has a tendency to screen out individuals with a disability, then it must be “job-related” and “consistent with business necessity”—or it is illegal discrimination. Disabled employees who are terminated for using prescription medications may have a cause of action if their employer’s drug test (1) constitutes a medical examination or disability inquiry; and (2) is not job-related or consistent with business necessity.
If you have a question about your employer’s right to terminate your employment because of prescription medication, or if you feel you’ve been discriminated against because of your use of legally prescribed medicine, contact a Cincinnati disability discrimination lawyer to learn how you can protect your rights.