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A Las Vegas school was within its rights to force a teacher to undergo a drug test after she was arrested off-duty for drunken driving and possession of marijuana, a Nevada federal court ruled in dismissing the teacher’s lawsuit.
In early October of 2010, Christa Casillas, a middle-school teacher employed by the Clark County School District (CCSD), was arrested by Las Vegas police for driving under the influence of alcohol, possessing marijuana and drug paraphernalia, causing an automobile collision and leaving the scene of the accident. The next day police informed school administrators of the incident, and when Casillas returned to work, on Oct. 7, the assistant principal summoned her to the main office and gave her a letter ordering her to undergo an immediate drug examination by a third-party laboratory.
Casillas requested that a union representative be present for any drug test or that she be allowed to call her union to confirm the legality of such testing. Another administrator denied Casillas’ request, physically blocked the door and called for a school police officer to prevent her from leaving. The teacher reluctantly submitted to the examination and tested positive for marijuana. The school dismissed her, making the termination effective immediately.
Casillas appealed her termination through a union arbitration process, and the arbitrator ordered that she be reinstated, subject to random drug testing for a two-year period. The arbitrator reasoned that because Casillas’ arrest did not occur while she was on duty, the CCSD was not justified in firing her. Casillas returned to work in May of 2011 and underwent 10 more drug tests over the next eight months. She did not test positive for narcotics or alcohol in any of the tests. .
In October of 2012, Casillas filed a cause of action in federal court, alleging, among other things, that the school district had violated her Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure by forcing her to undergo the original drug test two years prior—an act for which she claimed there was no reasonable suspicion. She also charged the district and the administrators involved with false imprisonment for having prevented her escape from the school’s main office that day. Casillas sought relief in the form of $100,000 in damages, punitive damages and a court injunction ordering the school district to refrain from such acts in the future. The CCSD filed a motion to dismiss all of Casillas’ claims.
The court mainly focused on the question of reasonable suspicion—meaning whether a reasonably prudent person, in light of the facts and circumstances, would have believed that Casillas more likely than not was using illegal drugs. The court emphasized that Casillas had been arrested for a hit-and-run accident she caused by driving in the wrong direction on a divided highway while under the influence of alcohol and in possession of marijuana. Thus, the CCSD had sufficient reasonable suspicion about whether Casillas might be intoxicated while on duty and a threat to students’ safety, the court explained. The district, therefore, was justified in mandating an immediate involuntary drug test and using reasonable restraint to ensure Casillas’ compliance.
The court dismissed all of Casillas’ claims with prejudice.
Casillas v. Clark County Sch. Dist., D. Nev., No. 2:12-cv-1769-RCJ-NJK (May 17, 2013).
Kirk Rafdal, J.D., is a staff writer for SHRM.
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