A federal district court recently dismissed a lawsuit in which a job applicant challenged a public employer’s decision to withdraw an offer of employment after the individual tested positive for cocaine on a pre-employment drug test. Turner v. Richmond Public Schools, et al., No. 3:16-cv-256 (E.D.VA., March 28, 2017). The federal action sought to recover damages for (1) the violation of Plaintiff’s Due Process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution; and (2) disparate treatment based on race and gender in violations of Title VII.
Plaintiff, an African American female, applied for a position as an Instructional Data Specialist with Defendant Richmond Public Schools. After receiving a conditional offer of employment, Plaintiff submitted a urine sample for drug and alcohol screening; the test returned positive for cocaine. Based on the test results, Richmond Public Schools rescinded Plaintiff’s offer of employment. Plaintiff requested reconsideration of the decision based on her concerns with the drug test procedures, disparate treatment between Plaintiff and other employees who had tested positive for drugs, and the lack of due process afforded to Plaintiff.
To state a viable due process claim, Plaintiff was required to show that she had a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest. Plaintiff ultimately failed to state sufficient facts reasonably to claim that she held any liberty or property interest at issue in the action. The District Court determined that the conditional offer of employment could not support Plaintiff’s claim of entitlement to employment because Plaintiff had no reasonable expectation of entitlement to the job at the time Richmond Public Schools rescinded the employment offer. Additionally, the District Court found that Plaintiff failed to state a claim under the “stigma-plus” standard, set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693 (1976), necessary to establish a deprivation of liberty within the meaning of the Due Process Clause. The District Court explained that Plaintiff failed to identify any false statements made by Richmond Public Schools that placed a stigma on Plaintiff’s reputation and that were made in conjunction with Richmond Public Schools’ determination to rescind the employment offer.
Similarly, the District Court determined that Plaintiff’s complaint lacked specific factual allegations sufficient to state a claim for race or gender discrimination under Title VII. Plaintiff alleged that there were instances in which white male employees tested positive for drugs but were not terminated. The District Court distinguished Plaintiff’s situation, however, from white male employees because Plaintiff was not yet an employee at the time of her drug test and, thus, could not compare herself to employees of Richmond Public Schools who may have tested positive for drugs. The District Court also found that Plaintiff failed to identify any facts indicating that she and her comparators dealt with the same supervisors, were subject to the same standards or performed the same functions for the employer.
For the reasons stated, the District Court dismissed Plaintiff’s action in its entirety. Notably, Plaintiff did not assert a claim that the drug test constituted an unlawful search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which is the most common claim asserted against public employers in the drug testing context.