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Employer’s Honest Belief Once Again Overcomes ADA Claim

Excel Mining, LLC had a strict no-tolerance policy for drug use with one just exception. If the employee informed Excel about a prescription drug use and Excel’s doctor advised that it was safe to use the drug, then the employee would keep his or her position.

Timothy Adkins failed his random drug test, having tested positive for alcohol and prescription drugs. With Excel’s permission, Mr. Adkins went to an in-patient treatment center for alcohol dependency. He was treated with oxazepam, which is a prescription drug for alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Upon his return to work, Mr. Adkins disclosed the prescriptions received during his treatment except for oxazepam. His drug test when he returned to work showed oxazepam in his system. The company called the drug testing lab to find out more. Excel learned that the medication clears a person’s system within three days. Left to conclude Mr. Adkins was taking undisclosed drugs, he was terminated for failing the drug test.

Claiming that he was fired for being an alcoholic, Mr. Adkins sued Excel for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. First, the federal district court rejected Mr. Adkin’s argument that the timing of his treatment and his termination established discrimination. Next, the Court looked to whether Excel had an “honest belief” that Mr. Adkins had violated its drug policy. The standard for “honest belief” required Excel to “make an informed and considered decision based on the facts before it” even if that belief turns out to be “mistaken, foolish, trivial, or baseless.” Excel’s information from the drug testing lab, as well as Mr. Adkin’s failure to list oxazepam as one of his medications, were sufficient to establish that Excel had an “honest belief” that he was violating the drug policy. The case was dismissed.