Company Settles Methadone Treatment Case

By Dori Meinert Feb 22, 2011
A Pennsylvania copper parts manufacturer has agreed to pay $85,000 to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit filed when the employer withdrew a job offer to an applicant after learning he was in a drug treatment program.

In addition to the payment, the company agreed to hire the applicant, Donald Teaford, as a mason utility laborer, commission officials announced Feb. 11, 2011.

The commission charged that Hussey Copper Ltd. in Leetsdale, Pa., violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by refusing to hire Teaford. Refusing to hire a qualified individual because of his disability or record of disability or because the employer perceives him as disabled violates the act, according to the EEOC.

In 2007, the company offered Teaford a job as a production laborer, contingent on his passing a physical examination and a drug test. His urine sample tested positive for methadone, according to court documents. When the company’s doctor questioned him, Teaford acknowledged he was taking methadone, which had been prescribed by a doctor to treat his dependency on opiates. The company then rescinded the job offer, mistakenly concluding that Teaford was a safety risk due to his methadone treatments, according to the commission.

Teaford was qualified for the position and was not experiencing any side effects from the methadone treatments, EEOC lawyers argued. In addition, the treatment program officials provided the company’s doctor with information verifying Teaford’s successful participation in the program, they said.

“Methadone treatment is one of the most monitored and regulated medical treatments in the United States,” said Spencer H. Lewis, a regional director of the commission based in Philadelphia. “This case should remind all employers that the ADA requires employers to make individualized assessments about an individual’s ability to do the job instead of acting out of speculative fears or biases.”

When used as prescribed and under a physician’s supervision, methadone is safe, according to a fact sheet published by the President’s Office of National Drug Control Policy.

“Methadone does not impair cognitive functions. It has no adverse effects on mental capability, intelligence, or employability. It is not sedating or intoxicating, nor does it interfere with ordinary activities such as driving a car or operating machinery,” the fact sheet states.

Rejecting the company’s motion for summary judgment in March 2010, a U.S. District Court judge said EEOC lawyers raised legitimate questions about whether the company conducted an individual assessment of Teaford to provide objective medical evidence that he posed a threat to himself or others. It is the employer’s burden to make such assessments of employees or applicants, Judge Nora Barry Fischer stated.

In this case, the commission established that the company’s doctor didn’t ask Teaford whether the methadone affected his cognitive functions, didn’t personally examine him and didn’t consult with Teaford’s doctor from the drug treatment program, the judge stated.

After a three-day trial, company lawyers agreed to settle the case. As part of a five-year consent decree, Hussey Copper agreed to revise its policies prohibiting discrimination, provide anti-discrimination training to employees and set up procedures for prompt investigations of any complaints.

A spokesperson for Hussey Copper wasn’t available for comment.


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