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Adkins v. Excel Mining: Employer’s Honest Belief That Employee Violated Drug Testing Policy Defeated ADA Claims

An employer that terminated an employee based on its honest belief the employee violated its drug policy was entitled to summary judgment on the employee’s Americans with Disabilities Act claim, according to a Kentucky federal court. The court also granted summary judgment to the employer on the employee’s failure to accommodate and wrongful discharge claims. Adkins v. Excel Mining, LLC, 7:15-cv-00133-ART-EBA (E.D. Ky. Oct. 4, 2016).

Defendant maintained a zero-tolerance drug policy, which prohibited employees from using prescription drugs without a prescription. The policy had one exception: if the employee disclosed prescription drug use to Defendant, the employee could continue working if the employee’s doctor said it was safe to do so.

Plaintiff failed a random drug test, testing positive for both prescription drugs and alcohol. Defendant allowed Plaintiff to undergo treatment for alcohol dependency.  During his six-day in-patient treatment stay, Plaintiff’s doctors prescribed oxazepam, a prescription drug that treats alcohol-withdrawal symptoms.

Plaintiff subsequently returned to work and provided Defendant with his discharge papers. Plaintiff also named the prescriptions he was prescribed during treatment.  However, neither the discharge papers nor Plaintiff mentioned oxazepam.  Plaintiff took another drug test and tested positive for oxazepam.  Defendant called the drug testing lab, and learned that oxazepam should clear a user’s system within three days.  Defendant concluded that the drug should have cleared his system by the time he failed the drug test.  Defendant terminated Plaintiff’s employment for violating its drug testing policy.

Plaintiff claimed Defendant violated the ADA and the Kentucky Human Rights Act, and that it terminated him in violation of public policy. Plaintiff specifically claimed he was terminated because he is an alcoholic.  The Court hinted that Plaintiff may not be “an individual with a disability” because the ADA excludes current users of illegal drugs.  However, it decided that Plaintiff’s claim failed on other grounds.

The Court first rejected Plaintiff’s argument that the timing alone between his treatment and his termination could carry the day. The Court then focused on the honest belief doctrine.  The Court held Defendant was only required to “make an informed and considered decision based on the facts before it,” even if the belief is ultimately “mistaken, foolish, trivial, or baseless.”  The Court concluded the Defendant’s reliance on the drug testing laboratory’s advice and the discharge papers (which did not list oxazepam) supported its honest belief Plaintiff violated its drug policy.  Thus, summary judgment was appropriate and the case was dismissed.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2020National Law Review, Volume VI, Number 314


About this Author

Catherine A. Cano, Jackson Lewis, Federal Disability Lawyer, Retaliation Matters Attorney

Catherine A. Cano is an Associate in the Omaha, Nebraska, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. She represents management in all areas of labor and employment law. 

Ms. Cano helps clients navigate state, federal, and local leave and disability laws. Ms. Cano has experience in litigation and arbitration in several areas, including employment discrimination, retaliation and whistleblower claims, and non-competes and unfair competition. Ms. Cano’s practice also includes assisting clients involved in union organization campaigns, collective bargaining,...