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Employee With Positive Drug Test Fails to Meet ADA “Regarded As” Standard

Paul Voss was a long term maintenance supervisor at the Housing Authority for the City of Magnolia, Arkansas. When all employees were required to undergo a drug screen, Voss tested positive for “opiates/morphine.” After receiving the result, the employer requested more information from Voss. He refused and was suspended without pay. Voss then showed the Housing Authority his prescription for hydrocodone. In response, the employer asked for information from Voss’ physician outlining the side effects of the medication to the extent it could impact his ability to perform his position. The Housing Authority reinstated his pay and made sure Voss would continue to receive health insurance pending the additional information. He was allowed to return to work without the necessary documentation but was not permitted to operate the employer’s vehicles and equipment without the requested information. Voss resigned his employment.
Voss brought a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The federal district court dismissed his case and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal. Voss claimed the Housing Authority “regarded him as disabled” but could not meet that standard. First, the court questioned whether his suspension could be viewed as an “adverse employment” action as the suspension ended before Voss’ supervisor had any reason to suspect that Voss might be disabled. Furthermore, the court concluded that the supervisor’s knowledge that Voss was taking hydrocodone was insufficient evidence to conclude Voss was “regarded as” disabled. The information sought by the employer seemingly reflected a concern that the medication impacted his performance and was not based on a belief Voss had a disability that would impact his job.