Court allows termination for failing drug test

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in Firing,Human Resources

A school employee has lost her case against the school district after it fired her for testing positive for illegal drugs. She had argued she was forced to undergo drug testing on the threat of losing her job and that the testing violated her right to privacy and right to be free from unreasonable searches under the U.S. Constitution.

Recent case: School employee Lauren Palmer worked as a secretary for 13 years, mainly assigned to an elementary school. At some point toward the end of her employment with the school district, she ended up being found guilty of marijuana possession, a misdemeanor charge. The conviction meant she paid a fine, temporarily lost her driver’s license and had to write an essay on the dangers of drug abuse.

When the school district found out about the conviction, it told Palmer she had to agree to a last-chance agreement. The contract required her to undergo counseling, pass a random drug test and complete all aspects of her criminal sentence.

Her first drug test came back positive for marijuana and opiates. She also missed an appointment for drug counseling. Plus, she delayed finishing her court-ordered essay.

The school district fired her for insubordination for not completing the essay on time for the court, for failing the drug test and for missing the appointment. She sued, alleging the school district had no right to invade her privacy and conduct a search by testing her for drug use.

The court disagreed. It said there is a balance between employee rights and the needs of a school district to protect students. It also said her agreement to testing was binding and not forced. Her discharge was upheld. (Palmer v. Cacioppo, No. 09-3924, 6th Cir., 2011)

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