Velma sue Bates v. Dura Automotive Systems, Inc.

| June 19, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

Read and review the provided case scenario.

Respond to the following questions:

1. Do you agree with the court’s decision?

2. Is termination of nondisabled employees permissible when they have a prescription for the medication for which they tested positive?

3. Is there an ethical resolution to this case?

 

Case Scenario

Velma Sue Bates v. Dura Automotive Systems, Inc.

The issue is whether the employer’s drug testing policy is permissible under the American Disabilities Act.

Plaintiffs-appellees are seven former employees of Dura Automotive Systems who are challenging Dura’s drug testing policy under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In resolving the parties’ cross motions for summary judgment, the district court held that an individual need not be disabled to pursue a claim under section 12112(b)(6) of the Act. The district court certified this issue for interlocutory appeal, which a panel of this Court granted. We now REVERSE the district court’s decision and hold that an individual must be disabled to pursue a claim under 42 U.S.C. 12112(b)(6).

The employees are 7 individuals who worked at Dura’s Lawrenceburg, Tennessee manufacturing facility. Dura manufactures glass window units for cars, trucks, and busses, and the Employees performed a wide range of jobs at Dura including driving tow motors, assembling windows, painting primer on frames, and trimming and water testing windows.

Dura grew concerned that the Lawrenceburg facility has a higher rate of workplace accidents that comparable plants and suspected that this might be caused by either legal or illegal drug use. To improve safety, Dura implemented a policy that prohibited employees from using legal prescription drugs is such use adversely affected safety, company property or job performance. Dura worked with an independent drug testing company to set up a procedure to screen its employees for substances it believed could be dangerous in the workplace. The resulting policy screened employees for 12 substances including those commonly found in legal prescription drugs such as Xanax, Lortab, and Oxycodone.

Each of the Employees tested positive for one of the 12 prohibited substances. In each case, the individual has a legal prescription for a drug containing that substance. Dura gave each of the Employees an opportunity to transition to drugs without the prohibited substances, but refused to consider letters from doctors stating that the Employees’ work performance would not be affected by the drugs. Eventually, Dura terminated the Employees when they continued taking medication with the prohibited substances.

The Employees sued, claiming that Dura’s drug testing violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. In resolving the parties’ cross motions for a summary judgment, the district court concluded that 6 of the employees are not disabled as a matter of law. The district court held that the Employees’ claim that Dura’s actions constituted an impermissible medical examination is best analyzed under section 12112(b)(6). The district court denied the Employees’ summary judgment motion, finding that there was a disputed issue of material fact as to whether Dura’s justification for the drug testing falls within the exception of the Act for testing that is job related and consistent with business necessity.

Dura then moved for clarification, asking the district court to determine whether individuals must be disabled in order to pursue claims under section 12112(b)(6), but, recognizing that there is a difference of opinion on this question, certified this issue for interlocutory appeal. A panel of this Court granted the petition for leave to appeal on the issue of whether an individual must be disabled to pursue a claim under section 12112(b)(6) of the Act. Section 12112 of the Act prohibits discrimination against a “qualified individual with a disability because of the disability.” 42 U.S.C. 12112(a) 2006. In pertinent part, this section provides:

(a) General Rule

No covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual….

(b) Construction

As used in subsection (a) of this section, the term “discriminate” includes…

(6) using qualification standards, employment tests or other selection criteria that screen out or tend to screen out an individual with a disability or a class of individuals with disabilities unless the standard, test or other selection criteria, as used by the covered entity, is shown to be job-related for the position in question and is consistent with business necessity.

Although non-disabled individuals may bring claims under some provisions of the Act, the plain text of subsection (b)(6) only covers individuals with disabilities. The text of subsection (a0 and (b)(6) specifically refers to “qualified individual[s],” and not, as discussed below, a broader class of individuals such as “employees.”

A straightforward reading of this stature compels the conclusion that only a “qualified individual with a disability” is protected from the prohibited form of discrimination described is subsection (b)(6)—the use of qualification standards and other tests that tend to screen out disabled individuals.

For the reasons set forth above, we REVERSE the district court’s decision that non-disabled individuals can pursue claims under section 12112(b)(6) of the Act. On remand, the district court shall dismiss the claims of the non-disabled Plaintiffs under section 12112(b)(6) of the Act.

Judgment for Dura Automotive Systems

 

Moran, J. J. (2014). Employment law: New challenges in the business environment (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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