Court Takes Case on Disabilities Act, Drug Rehab Companies’ no-rehire policies could be affected

By Joan Biskupic

USA Today

The Supreme Court said Monday that it will decide whether a federal law protecting disabled people prevents employers from refusing to rehire drug addicts who underwent rehabilitation.

The case, which could affect many companies with A no-rehire policies and workers looking for a second chance, is the latest case to test the breadth of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. Generally, the justices have narrowly interpreted the reach of the law designed to deter bias toward the disabled.

In this dispute, to be argued next fall, Raythoen’s Hughes Missiles Systems is appealing a lower-court decision that said a worker who was let go after using illegal drugs, but who then sought treatment, could not automatically be barred from returning to his job.

Joel Hernandez, a 25-year veteran of the Hughes plant in Tucson tested positive for cocaine at work in 1991 and was allowed to resign rather than be fired.

Hernandez, went through drug treatment, and three years later, he re-applied to Hughes to be product test specialist.

He was rejected based on a company policy of not rehiring former employees who were fired or allowed to resign in lieu of firing.

Hernandez then sued. He said the company violated the ADA by spurning him because of his past drug addiction.

A lower court backed Hughes, but the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit revived Hernandez’s case.

“Although the ADA does not protect an employee or applicant who is …engaging in illegal drug use, A it does protect qualified individuals with a drug addiction who have been successfully rehabilitated.”

“If Hernandez is in fact no longer using drugs and has been successfully rehabilitated, A Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the court, A he may not be denied re-employment simply because of his past record of drug addiction.”

In its appeal, the company says many employers disqualify discharged people from being rehired, particularly those such as Hughes that deal with confidential government contracts or with hazardous materials.

Hernandez’s attorney urged the court to let the 9th Circuit ruling stand, and he said Hernandez has been sober since 1992.

Also on Monday, the justices:

Agreed to hear a dispute between Alaska and the federal Environmental Protection Agency over a permit the state issued in 1999 for construction of an electric generator at the zinc-producing Red Dog Mine, 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

The EPA invalidated the permit. It said the generator’s nitrogen oxide emissions would violate the Clean Air Act. The 9th Circuit appeals court sided with the federal agency.

Ten other states are backing Alaska.

Agreed to hear a US Justice Department appeal of a 9th Circuit ruling that threw out evidence in a drug case because Las Vegas police officers and federal agents barged into an apartment only 15-20 seconds after knocking and announcing they were law enforcement.

The search turned up weapons and drugs. The appeals court said the officers violated the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches by not waiting longer before forcibly entering the apartment.

Rejected a challenge brought by medical clinics to an Indiana law that requires women who are seeking an abortion to get medical information and counseling in person at least 18 hours before undergoing the procedure.