High Court Finds No Discrimination in Drug Addict Rehire Policy

December 3, 2003 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The US Supreme Court has ruled a company is not required to rehire recovered drug addicts who claim their addiction is a disability.

>Justice Clarence Thomas writing for the court found the policy at Raytheon Co. “is a quintessential legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for refusing to rehire an employee who was terminated for violating workplace conduct rules” after the initial suit claimed the policy was in violation of the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act.   

>Previously the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s initial dismissal of the case finding the policy at a Raytheon unit against rehiring employees who left because of misconduct, as it applied to ex-addicts whose only work-related offense was testing positive for drug use and who have been rehabilitated to be in violation of the ADA. “A policy that serves to bar the reemployment of a drug addict despite his successful rehabilitation violates the ADA,” the appeals court said.   With the most recent ruling, the Supreme Court vacated the appeals court’s ruling and sent the case back to the 9th Circuit.

Case History

Joel Hernandez, a 25-year employee at Raytheon’s Hughes Missile Systems Co plant in Tucson, Arizona, attempted to convince the company to rehire him – three years after he quit when he tested positive for cocaine. Hughes rejected the 1994 rehire request because of the company’s policy against reemploying those who departed because of misconduct (See  Supreme Court Hears Ex-Drug Addict Rehire Case ).

An Arizona federal judge threw out Hernandez’s initial discrimination suit, but the 9thCircuit reinstated it finding that Hernandez was entitled to a trial and had made a prima facie case of disability discrimination

Lawyers for Raytheon raised questions about the appellate court’s decision in the company’s Supreme Court arguments, saying many companies refuse to rehire discharged workers.  “Such a no-rehire rule provides an essential form of institutional memory to help ensure that failed former employees do not slip back into an organization simply because hiring personnel do not know (or have forgotten) why former employees earlier departed,” the company said.

The Supreme Court agreed in the unanimous 7-0 opinion.   Justice Stephen Breyer – who owns between $50,000 and $100,000 in Raytheon stock according to his financial disclosure form – made his recusal known from the earliest stages of the case.  Justice David Souter joined him later on the sidelines.  

The case is Raytheon v. Hernandez.