An Iowa appellate court reversed an award of damages to an employee under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) after the employee was discharged for refusing to submit to a post-accident drug test.  Phillip M. Brown v. Mystique Casino, No. 3-723, 13-0012 (Iowa App. Oct. 2, 2013).

The employee had taken a number of prescription painkillers throughout his employment, including hydrocodone, oxycodone and hydromorphone.  Due to safety issues associated with his job as a maintenance laborer, the employer prohibited the employee from using power tools or driving vehicles at one point during his employment.  At a subsequent time, the employee took a medical leave of absence while using the prescription painkillers and eventually returned to work.

Shortly after his return to work, the employee cut his finger while at work.  He was advised by a supervisor that he needed to go to the hospital to determine whether he needed stitches.  The Company’s drug and alcohol policy required a post-accident test because the employee suffered an injury at work.  The employee refused to submit to the drug test, even after he was advised that the test was for illegal drugs, not for prescription medications.  Because the employee continued to refuse, his employment was terminated.

The employee filed suit under the ADA, arguing that he was terminated based on his disability.  The case proceeded to a jury trial and the jury entered a verdict in the employee’s favor.  The employer filed a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which was denied.

The appellate court reversed and dismissed the case.  Among other things, the court found that the employer had the right to subject the employee to a post-accident drug test under its policy, and noted that the employee testified that he was aware that refusing to test could be grounds for termination.  The court rejected the employee’s argument that the jury’s verdict was supported by “a theory that the company allowed him to return to work, then waited for him to suffer an injury, knowing he would be required to take a drug test and further knowing that he would refuse the drug test.”  The court held that there was no evidence supporting such a theory, and that there was no evidence that the drug test was merely a pretext for terminating the employee’s employment.

Employers should always include a provision in their substance abuse policies advising employees that refusing to test will lead to termination, and defining the types of conduct that constitute a “refusal to test.”