The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in late September upheld a lower court ruling that the National Football League cannot suspend Minnesota Vikings defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams for violating the sport’s drug policy.
In 2008, both linemen tested positive for bumetanide, a diuretic sold under the trade name StarCaps. The players faced suspensions because the NFL’s drug-testing policy bars players from using bumetanide because it can mask steroids.
But the drug is not illegal in Minnesota, and there lies the basis of players’ contention that the NFL can’t sanction them for using it.
Like many states, Minnesota has a “lifestyle discrimination” law that prohibits employers from punishing employees for use of legal substances on their own time. The law was enacted to prohibit employers from punishing employees for their off-duty use of lawfully consumable products such as cigarettes and alcohol.
When the NFL tried to suspend the Williamses last year, the tackles rushed to court claiming the league violated the state Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace Act (DATWA) and the Consumable Products Act—Minnesota’s lifestyle discrimination law.
DATWA requires employers to provide treatment or rehabilitation to employees with positive drug tests.
In July, a state court issued a restraining order stopping drug testing because the players had “some likelihood of prevailing on the merits of their state claims.” The court also noted that labor and “do not have the ability to contract for what is illegal under state law.”
The NFL is considering an appeal of the 8th Circuit’s ruling. Meanwhile, NFL Players Association union officials say they’ll use the case to argue for an overhaul of the league’s drug policy during upcoming collective-bargaining talks.
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