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December 03, 2003
High Court Rules against Recovered Addict in ADA Case

December 3, 2003

The Supreme Court ruled 7-0 on Tuesday that an employer's uniform and neutral policy that bars the rehiring of a worker who was terminated for misconduct is a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason to refuse to rehire a recovered drug addict who was fired for violating the company's policy on drug use.

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The ruling came in a case involving an Arizona missile plant worker and Raytheon Co. In 1991, the worker, Joel Hernandez, had tested positive for cocaine and resigned in lieu of being terminated. More than two years later, he applied to be rehired, citing rehabilitation. The company refused to rehire him. The company said the decision was based on its policy prohibiting the rehiring of employees that were fired or resigned because of work conduct or rule violations.

Hernandez later filed a lawsuit alleging the company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The trial court dismissed Hernandez's case. Hernandez appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington). The 9th Circuit reinstated Hernandez's case, and ruled in his favor.

The Supreme Court's decision vacates the 9th Circuit ruling and sends the case back to the court for further action. In writing for the Supreme Court, Justice Clarence Thomas said the 9th Circuit erred in its decision when it applied a disparate-impact analysis to the Hernandez's disparate-treatment claim and "ignored the fact that [Raytheon's] no-hire policy is a quintessential legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for refusing to rehire an employee who was terminated for violating workplace conduct rules."

"This is a great case for employers because it says you can have a policy that allows you to punish misconduct, not a disability," Zachary D. Fasman, an attorney who specializes in employment issues, tells the Los Angeles Times. "[However], it must be a uniform policy and it must be applied uniformly."

ADA differentiates between current and recovering drug users, offering protection against discrimination for workers who are participating in, or have successfully completed, a supervised drug rehabilitation program (or who have otherwise been successfully rehabilitated), the newspaper notes.

Justices Stephen G. Breyer and David H. Souter did not vote in the ruling.


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