Applicants with Former Addictions Protected Under the ADA

Screening-Compliance-Update_website

Remember Mr. Leon Dabrowski? He was the employee that I wrote about a few weeks back who was terminated 30 minutes into his first workday because of his participation in a supervised medication-assisted treatment program for a prior opiate addiction.

Lo and behold, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) continues to file lawsuits against employers that take adverse actions against applicants and employees who are participating in supervised medication-assisted treatment programs. Under 42 U.S.C.S. § 12117, the EEOC administers, interprets, and enforces Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the ADA’s protections extend to employees and job applicants who face discrimination based on past drug addiction. In recent years, the EEOC has filed various lawsuits against employers for allegedly discriminating against applicants or employees who are participants in supervised rehabilitation programs.

Of most recent note, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Steel Painters (1:18-cv-00303, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas). Steel Painters is a painting company located in Beaumont, Texas who hired Matthew Kimball as a journeyman painter in September 2016. He was required to take a pre-employment drug and alcohol test a few days before beginning his new job. Mr. Kimball’s drug test returned “positive” and he provided the laboratory with a copy of his prescription for methadone[i] along with a letter from Texas Treatment Services confirming his treatment at the center. The lab then changed the test result to “negative.”

Steel Painters would not allow Mr. Kimball to return to his job until his doctor completed a specific form. The treatment center informed Mr. Kimball of their policy not to complete third-party forms on its patients. The doctor wrote a detailed letter about Mr. Kimball’s treatment and invited the human resources manager to call the treatment center if more detailed information was needed. In the end, the human resources representative refused to call and Mr. Kimball was discharged.

In June of 2018, the EEOC filed suit against Steel Painters, LLC alleging it unlawfully discharged an employee because it regarded him as disabled and because of his disability. According to the EEOC’s complaint, Mr. Kimball sustained a shoulder and arm injury in 2012 resulting in an addiction to a prescribed opioid pain medication which further resulted in a supervised medication-assisted treatment program.

In light of the continued litigation in this area, employers should review their hiring practices, including drug testing policies, and carefully consider their treatment of applicants and employees who are using drugs for their former drug addictions. Further, heed the advice of the EEOC – pre-employment tests, including drug screening, must be “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” [ii]


[i] Methadone is an opioid medication. Methadone reduces the withdrawal symptoms in people addicted to heroin or other narcotic drugs without causing the “high” associated with the drug addiction. Methadone is used as a pain reliever and as part of drug addiction detoxification and maintenance programs. For further information, visit: https://www.drugs.com/methadone.html

[ii] Referenced Source: https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/Pages/Job-Applicants-Past-Drug-Addiction-Protected-Under-ADA.aspx