An employer’s reliance on a positive alcohol test was held to be a legitimate and non-discriminatory basis for termination, despite the terminated employee’s argument that the test result was inaccurate.  Clark v. Boyd Tunica, Inc., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 35223 (N.D.  Miss. March 1, 2016).

Plaintiff, a line cook at Boyd Tunica, Inc., underwent a routine drug and alcohol test after breaking her ankle at work, as the Company’s Substance/Alcohol Abuse and Drug Testing Policy mandated testing of all employees injured on the job.  Although her blood test was negative, the urine screen indicated Plaintiff was “positive for alcohol at the level of .12%”  — well above the legal limit in Mississippi and in violation of Company policy, which prohibited employees from being under the influence of alcohol while at work.

After learning of the positive test result, Boyd Tunica’s management asked Plaintiff whether she was taking any medications “to determine if anything she was taking could have created a false positive.”  Plaintiff informed the Company that she was taking medication for her diabetes.  Boyd Tunica relayed this information to its testing laboratory, which confirmed that the “medication would have no effect on the test results, that the urine test for alcohol was more accurate than the blood test, and that the test result showing alcohol was accurate.”  The Company subsequently discharged Plaintiff for violating its zero-tolerance policy.  Plaintiff filed suit, alleging that the test results were inaccurate and could have been affected by her medication and that she actually was terminated because of her purported disability (her broken ankle).

The Court granted Boyd Tunica’s motion for summary judgment, noting that, among other things, the employer always terminated employees who tested positive for alcohol on the job.  The Court held that even if Plaintiff was able to establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination, “Federal Courts have consistently held that a failed drug [and alcohol] test is a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for adverse employment action.”  Plaintiff’s belief that the test results were inaccurate was irrelevant, as “an employer’s reliance on an erroneous result does not create a claim under the ADA absent an independent showing that the real reason for the firing was a disability.”  Here, the Court held Plaintiff could not establish Boyd Tunica’s reliance on the allegedly-false test results was pretext for discrimination, particularly in light of the fact Boyd Tunica provided Plaintiff with an opportunity to explain the positive test result and only terminated her employment after the laboratory confirmed that her medication could not have caused a false positive.

This decision underscores the importance of treating all employees who test positive consistently and providing employees with the opportunity to explain a positive test result.  Typically, such review should be conducted by a Medical Review Officer who has the medical expertise to evaluate such claims appropriately.