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.
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
"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.