Opinions & Editorials

9th Circuit drug test ruling sets a dangerous precedent

By Frank Ladra
The Guardsman

When the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on March 2 that companies have the right to deny employment based on previous failed drug screenings, it set a precedent for discrimination in the workforce and struck a crippling blow to the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

The Pacific Maritime Association’s “one-strike” policy states that any applicant who tests positive for drugs or alcohol during pre-employment drug screening is permanently eliminated from employment consideration. According to the San Francisco based federal appeals court, it does not violate any disability discrimination laws.

The association introduced the policy to combat accidents and injuries employers partly blamed on a workplace culture accepting of drug and alcohol use.

One law in question was the Americans with Disabilities Act, which specifically bars discrimination against “any person who has been rehabilitated successfully and is no longer engaging in illegal drug use.”

However, the court insists that the decision doesn’t necessarily discriminate against recovered or recovering addicts, but against those who test positive for drugs during the interview process, even if that process is decades prior.

So essentially, even if the applicant has a proven history of rehabilitation, one failed test follows him or her for life. At least, it will with the Pacific Maritime Association, who is responsible for hiring the longshoremen of the majority of the west coast.

But other companies will certainly adopt this policy now that it has been vindicated by the courts. And what happens if and when these companies merge and start sharing information? Will any personal information remain sacred?

If precedents like this become more common, and protections guaranteed by the 14th Amendment are further chipped away, it is foreseeable that companies could elect more discriminatory regulations around job opportunities for those in wheelchairs. And medical insurance companies will become even choosier when determining which diseases seem more or less profitable.

Laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 14th Amendment of the Constitution were created to protect citizens from discrimination. Poking loopholes in the law with court rulings like the “one-strike” policy will only weaken the balance of equality.

Rehabilitation has proven to be successful for thousands upon thousands of addicts. But a ruling like this sends a haunting message to those recovering: their mistakes are permanent and will constantly follow them. It certainly doesn’t encourage those “separate but equal” citizens to get better.


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