EEOC Sues Pittsburgh Drug Clinic for Terminating Employee for Positive Drug Test

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed suit under the ADA against a Pittsburgh drug-treatment center.  The suit, which is brought on behalf of a former clinic employee under the Americans With Disabilities Act, alleges disability-based discrimination.  The employee, a recovering drug addict, worked full-time as a counselor at the clinic when was terminated when she tested positive for methadone in a random drug test.  

The Greenbriar Treatment Center in New Kensington, is alleged to have fired the employee despite eeoc_3her claim that she had a legal prescription for the methadone, which she’d been receiving through a treatment program since 2002.  She was later berated by her former boss, who told her that she “should be ashamed of herself.”  The EEOC contends that the termination was unlawful discrimination against a person with a disability.

The Americans With Disabilities Act & Illegal Drug Use

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) does not protect current drug users.  But it does protect those who are in recovery for drug or alcohol abuse.

The EEOC’s Technical Assistance Manual for the ADA has the following to say about the use of illegal drugs as a disability:

Regarding Persons Currently In Recovery:

Persons addicted to drugs, but who are no longer using drugs illegally and are receiving treatment for drug addiction or who have been rehabilitated successfully, are protected by the ADA from discrimination on the basis of past drug addiction.

For example

An addict who is currently in a drug rehabilitation program and has not used drugs illegally for some time is not excluded from the protection of the ADA. This person will be protected by the ADA because s/he has a history of addiction, or if s/he is “regarded as” being addicted. Similarly, an addict who is rehabilitated or who has successfully completed a supervised rehabilitation program and is no longer illegally using drugs is not excluded from the ADA.

Regarding Persons Currently Using:

However, a person who casually used drugs illegally in the past, but did not become addicted is not an individual with a disability based on the past drug use. In order for a person to be “substantially limited” because of drug use, s/he must be addicted to the drug.

To ensure that drug use is not recurring, an employer may request evidence that an individual is participating in a drug rehabilitation program or may request the results of a drug test.

Not having seen the complaint, I’m at a bit of a loss as to what type of facts may be alleged to support the EEOC’s claim.  To present a viable claim, the EEOC has to allege that the employee (1) is disabled, presumably because of her drug addiction; and (2) she suffered some adverse action, presumably the termination; and (3) Number 1 was the reason for Number 2; i.e., that she was fired because of her drug addiction.

My initial reactions to this scenario:  What was the clinic’s drug policy? I’d think it would be more comprehensive than most.  Did it address methadone?  What was the clinic’s position, if any, on methadone programs as a recovery treatment?  And, of course, wasn’t there a pre-employment drug test?  If so, did she test positive for methadone?  If she did, well, it seems like clinic could be in a bad spot.  If she didn’t, was she still using illegal drugs?  Would that have been a piece of after-acquired evidence (i.e., falsifying drug test results, etc.) upon which the employer could have terminated her?  That would be a reason other than a “disability.”

The merits of the case may also depend on how the court defines a “recovery program” as that term is used in the EEOC’s Guidance, above.  It isn’t clear from the EEOC’s own definition whether the methadone program would qualify.

A “rehabilitation program” may include in-patient, out-patient, or employee assistance programs, or recognized self-help programs such as Narcotics Anonymous.

Source:  Post Gazette at