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High Court To Take Up Drug-Testing Issue

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Washington--Acting in a case with implications for public-school employees, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed last week to decide the constitutionality of a federal agency's drug-testing policy.

The suit accepted for review--filed by the National Treasury Employees Union--challenges the Customs Service's requirement that employees seeking promotions to "key" positions submit urine samples to be tested for illicit drug use.

A decision by the Court in the case is expected to define further the Fourth Amendment rights of public employees to be free from unreasonable searches. State and federal courts have been deeply divided on the issue of whether mandatory drug tests for such workers violate those rights.

Last April, for example, a federal appeals court upheld the drug-testing requirement for the Customs Service employees, finding that the agency's interest in maintaining a drug-free staff outweighed employees' privacy interests.

Other federal courts have upheld similar testing requirements for jockeys and prison guards.

But last week, a federal district judge here struck down the Army's policy of requiring civilian employees in certain "critical" positions to submit to mandatory, random drug testing.

And last month, a federal appeals court in California rejected as unconstitutional U.S. Transportation Department rules requiring blood and urine tests of train crews involved in serious accidents.

School Cases

Other drug-testing cases have directly involved school employees.

Last year, New York State's highest court ruled that school districts could not force probationary teachers to submit to drug testing as a condition for obtaining tenure.

In another 1987 ruling, a federal appeals court held that the District of Columbia school system could test its bus drivers and aides, but could only use a test that positively determined impairment while on the job.

Lawyers for the transportation workers claimed the decision as a victory, saying that no such test exists.

In cases involving students, state and federal courts have struck down districts' drug-testing policies affecting an entire high school's enrollment, but have upheld policies affecting only student athletes.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in the Customs Service case, National Treasury Employees Union v. Von Raab (Case No. 87-1879), next fall.

Other Action

In other action last week, the Court declined to review a case in which an employee of a Wisconsin teachers' union argued that he was denied a promotion on the basis of his sex.

The case, McQuillen v. Wisconsin Education Association Council (No. 87-999), stemmed from a decision by the state's National Education Association affiliate in 1983 to hire a woman as a staff lawyer rather than promote Gordon McQuillen, who was then a law clerk for the group.

Mr. McQuillen filed suit, alleging that he was discriminated against in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Federal district and appellate courts rejected his argument, holding that although sex may have been a motivating factor in the union's decision, Mr. McQuillen had failed to prove that it was the determining factor.

Associate Justice Byron H. White noted that he would have accepted the case for argument.--tm

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