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Fla.: Key West’s Employee Drug Testing Policy Found Unconstitutional

By Rita Zeidner  6/16/2014
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The City of Key West’s policy of requiring city job applicants to be tested for drug use is unconstitutional, a federal court ruled. 

“The City has failed to carry its burden of demonstrating a special need or important governmental interest which justifies the Fourth Amendment intrusion complained of in this

action,” concluded U.S. District Judge James L. King in a May 9, 2014, ruling. “While suspicion-less drug testing of applicants for employment may have become routine for private employers, this Court is bound by controlling precedent to find that the Policy is unconstitutional as applied to Plaintiff,” he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the city in May 2013 after officials revoked a job offer made to Karen Cabanas Voss, a Key West resident selected in January 2012 for the newly created position of solid waste coordinator. Voss complained to the city attorney about the pre-employment drug-screening requirement and never submitted the required urine for testing. 

In February 2012, city officials informed Voss that because she refused to take the required pre-employment drug test, the job went to another candidate. 

King compared the Key West policy to an earlier case in which the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Georgia’s assertion that drug testing of political candidates was necessary for the safe and effective delivery of public services. “Indeed there is no evidence in the record showing a serious problem of drug abuse amongst applicants for employment with the City, or even amongst City employees generally, which might serve to confirm the City’s assertion of a special need for a suspicion-less drug testing regime and justify a departure from the Fourth Amendment’s usual requirement of individualized suspicion,” he said.

King also dismissed the city’s argument that the solid waste coordinator position is safety-sensitive. He pointed to witness testimony stating that the coordinator would not need to be physically present or in an environment requiring “an elevated level of awareness to avoid causing harm to herself and others.”

He also pointed to the absence of evidence suggesting that any accidents at waste disposal sites were a result of on-the-job drug impairment or intoxication.

In addition, King rejected the city’s argument that a difference exists between suspicion-less drug testing of applicants — who have the option of not applying for a job where drug testing is required — and the testing of current employees. There is no local legal precedent holding “that the government can violate a person’s rights under the Fourth Amendment so long as prior notice of the impending violation is given,” he said.

Voss v. City of Key West, S.D. Fla., Case No. 13-10106-CV-King, (May 9, 2014).

Rita Zeidner is a freelance business writer and former senior writer for HR Magazine.
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