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Published in Print: June 10, 1998, as Appeals Court Rejects Employee-Drug-Test Policies

Appeals Court Rejects Employee-Drug-Test Policies

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A federal appeals court has struck down two Louisiana districts' policies on testing teachers and other school workers for drugs following workplace accidents.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit said the policies in the New Orleans and Jefferson Parish districts could not be justified under recent Supreme Court rulings on drug testing of employees.

"Despite hints of the school boards, the testing here does not respond to any identified problem of drug use by teachers or their teachers' aides or clerical workers," the three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based appeals court said in its May 29 ruling.

The 85,000-student New Orleans district's policy required urine testing of any employee involved in a workplace accident. The 56,000-student Jefferson Parish district in the New Orleans suburbs tested for drugs and alcohol whenever an employee made an accident-related workers' compensation claim. Under state law, the claim could be denied if the injured employee was intoxicated at the time of the accident.

In order to be upheld, the appeals court said, the policies would have to fit into a "special needs" category defined by the U.S. Supreme Court in its drug-testing decisions. The high court has held that there ordinarily must be individualized suspicion of wrongdoing before conducting a urine test for drugs, which the court considers a search subject to Fourth Amendment protections.

Rules Called 'Overinclusive'

The high court last year struck down a Georgia law that required drug testing of all candidates for major statewide elective offices. The court said in Chandler v. Miller that the law failed to pass constitutional muster because there was no evidence of a drug problem among the state's candidates and the testing requirement was largely symbolic.1

The appeals court said the Louisiana policies were "overinclusive" because "all persons injured are tested, not just persons injured under circumstances suggesting their fault."

"Their general interest in a drug-free school environment is not served by these rules," said the opinion by U.S. Circuit Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham.

But the court agreed that evidence of drug use on the job by teachers might justify random testing without individual suspicion.

The Supreme Court upheld random drug testing of student athletes in Vernonia School District v. Acton.2

Robert Rosenberg, a lawyer for the New Orleans district, said he was disappointed by the ruling. About 7 percent of district employees who were tested after accidents tested positive for illicit drugs, he said.

The two school boards have not decided whether to appeal the ruling.

Vol. 17, Issue 39, Page 3

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