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U.S. Court of Appeals Upholds Employee Termination Following Positive Drug Test

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued a recent ruling that, while not precedential, may provide guidance to employers on the increasingly complicated topic of marijuana drug tests and employment-related decisions.

Case Background

As background, the plaintiff in the case was a long-time employee who was eventually diagnosed in 2018 with an inflammatory autoimmune disease. She began using CBD oils to manage her symptoms. Several months later in 2019, she was selected for a random drug test and informed human resources that she may test positive for marijuana. At the time, she did not inform her employer about her condition. 

Following the positive drug test, her employment was terminated. She then filed suit alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Pennsylvania Human Rights Act. The District Court granted the employer’s motion to dismiss leading to this subsequent appeal.

The Court of Appeals Reviews the Case

Upon review, the Court of Appeals determined it could not conclude the termination was due to disability discrimination as the employer was not aware of, and thus did not consider, the plaintiff’s condition when it terminated employment. Instead, the employer terminated her solely due to the positive drug test and the belief she was using illegal drugs. 

The court then found the plaintiff did not adequately argue that the employer’s policy to terminate individuals for illegal drug use led to a disparate impact on people with a disability. Instead, the policy imposed requirements on employees using legal drugs including when such use may be considered to fall under the employer’s definition of illegal drugs. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims.

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