Thursday, November 19, 2015

EEOC Sues Employer for Refusal to Hire Methadone User

On November 3, 2015, the EEOC filed a federal lawsuit against an employer who allegedly refused to hire a recovering drug addict using methadone. In EEOC v. Randstad, US, LP, the EEOC alleged that the employer’s refusal to hire April Cox violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).

According to the court filing, April Cox is a recovering heroin addict enrolled in a supervised methadone treatment program. In January 2015, Cox applied for a job as a production laborer. Cox disclosed that she was in a methadone treatment program when she was asked to submit to a pre-employment drug test.  It is alleged that a manager stated to Cox that “I’m sure we don’t hire people on methadone, but I will contact my supervisor.”  Cox was never asked to take the drug test and was not hired.

The lawsuit alleges violations of the ADA on the grounds that Cox is “disabled” because she is a recovering substance abuser, that Cox has a record of disability, and that she was “regarded as” having a disability based on her methadone use.  On Cox’s behalf, the EEOC is seeking recovery for back pay, pain and suffering and punitive damages against the employer.  We will follow this case and report on the outcome. The EEOC has obtained favorable results in similar employment discrimination cases filed on behalf of methadone users. The outcomes generally turn on whether the employer can establish that it did an individualized assessment to determine whether the applicant could perform the job safely.

The take away from this case is that employers should be careful not to discriminate against job applicants or employees who use prescription medications to treat medical conditions.  Employers need to consider each case on its own facts to determine whether the applicant (or employee) can perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation, and without posing a direct threat of harm to themselves or others in the workplace.  Employers should also have proper procedures in place to ensure that both applicants and employees are not subject to discrimination based upon stereotyped assumptions about certain types of drugs such as methadone.