Human Resources News & Insights

What? He failed a drug test … so how can he sue under the ADA?

The moral of this story: Like the feds, the courts want to see you do everything in your power to work with disabled individuals. 

If you can’t show that you did everything in your power to help those with disabilities perform their jobs, you’re going to have a lot of difficulty getting a discrimination claim thrown out of court. That’s the legal landscape employers are now facing.

Driver was on amphetamine

Here’s an example of how tricky it is to comply with the ADA: John Lisotto was denied a position as a truck driver at New Prime Inc., a fuel hauler, because he failed the company’s medical exam during the hiring process.

Lisotto suffered from narcolepsy, and took a prescribed amphetamine — Dexedrine — to manage the sleep disorder.

In anticipation of the drug test, Lisotto submitted a letter from his physician to New Prime.

The letter said:

“the prescribed medication would not adversely affect [Lisotto’s] ability to safely operate a commercial motor vehicle as [Lisotto] had for many years been driving commercial trucks safely … while taking [Dexedrine] and had experienced no problems with narcolepsy.”

Prime’s medical examiner told Lisotto that he needed to be off Dexedrine for at least one month. He also told Lisotto that Provigil was the only medication for narcolepsy that Prime would accept.

After that, Lisotto’s drug test results came back and he was told by one of Prime’s nurses that he couldn’t work for Prime because of his positive test result for Dexedrine. He was then told to return home and take Provigil for six weeks to see how it would affect him.

Lisotto did exactly that.

But when he reached out to New Prime again to inquire about becoming a driver, he was shut down.

Eventually, he received a letter from New Prime’s medical review officer that said:

“Even though you had a prescription for amphetamines, in my opinion you have a disqualifying medical condition since narcolepsy is a safety concern.”

ADA claim

Lisotto then filed a disability discrimination lawsuit under the ADA.

New Prime fought to get his lawsuit dismissed, claiming that Lisotto was required to first seek administrative recourse with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which is tasked with resolving “conflicts of medical evaluation” where the physician for a driver and the physician for the motor carrier disagree on a driver’s qualifications.

But the court said there was no such disagreement here. It said both parties’ physicians indicated that as long as Lisotto took proper medication, he appeared qualified.

Instead, it said the breakdown occurred when New Prime’s medical review officer failed to communicate with Lisotto’s physician to determine whether there was a legitimate medical reason to take his failed drug test at face value.

In other words, the biggest problem for New Prime was it cut off talks with Lisotto’s doctor and relied solely on the failed drug test to deny him a job without looking deeper into whether he could still do the job.

As a result, the court ruled Lisotto’s ADA lawsuit could proceed despite his failed drug test, which means New Prime is facing a costly lawsuit or settlement.

Cite: Lisotto v. New Prime Inc.

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