Iowa Court of Appeals Reverses Lower Courts Decision Where Employee Refused Drug Test

Friday, October 18, 2013
An Iowa appeals court reversed the district court's decision in an award of damages to an employee under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).  Phillip M. Brown v. Mystique Casino, No. 3-723, 13-0012 (Iowa App. Oct. 2, 2013).  The employee was discharged for refusing to submit to a post-accident drug test where the accident took place at the workplace.

Brown injured his left leg while working on an oil rig. As a result he has a drop foot, where he cannot lift his left foot up, and wears a leg brace. He has taken pain medication, such as narcotic analgesics, including hydrocodone, oxycodone and hydromorphone, for twenty-five to thirty years, but successfully performed jobs as a mechanic, welder, and fabricator.  Due to safety issues associated with his job as a maintenance laborer, the employer prohibited the employee from using power tools or driving vehicles at one point during his employment.  Later, the employee took a medical leave of absence while using the prescription painkillers and eventually returned to work.  

Shortly after his return to work, the employee cut his finger while at work.  He was advised by a supervisor that he needed to go to the hospital to determine whether he needed stitches.  The Company’s drug and alcohol policy required a post-accident test because the employee suffered an injury at work.  The employee refused to submit to the drug test, even after he was advised that the test was for illegal drugs, not for prescription medications.  Because the employee continued to refuse, his employment was terminated.

The employee filed suit under the ADA, arguing that he was terminated based on his disability.  The case proceeded to a jury trial and the jury ruled in the employee’s favor.  The employer filed a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which was denied.

The appellate court reversed and dismissed the case.   The court found that the employer had the right to subject the employee to a post-accident drug test under its policy, and noted that the employee testified that he was aware that refusing the test could be grounds for termination and that if the test only showed the presence of prescription drugs, there would be no concern.  The court rejected the employee’s argument.  There was no evidence of the company, following company policy, used the drug test after an accident as a pretext for terminating Brown's employment.
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