US High Court Takes Ex-Drug Addict Rehire Case

February 25, 2003 ( - A case now before the US Supreme Court could decide whether the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) protects formerly drug-addicted workers from being discriminated against in rehiring because of their drug problems.

The high court justices agreed to hear an appeal by defense contractor Raytheon Co.’s Hughes Missile Systems Co. of a federal appeals court ruling extending ADA protections to one-time drug addicted employees applying for rehire, Reuters reported.

The case involved efforts by Joel Hernandez, a 25-year Hughes employee and a technician at a plant in Tucson, Arizona, 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.

An Arizona federal judge threw out Hernandez’ eventual discrimination suit, but the US 9 th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated it because of the ADA protections. The San Francisco-based appeals court ruled that Hernandez had presented enough evidence that a jury could conclude he was qualified for the job and his application had been rejected because of his drug addiction.

Appeals judges said Hughes’s policy against rehiring employees who left because of misconduct violated the law, as it applied to ex-addicts whose only work-related offense was testing positive for drug use and who have been rehabilitated. “A policy that serves to bar the reemployment of a drug addict despite his successful rehabilitation violates the ADA,” the appeals court said.

In its Supreme Court appeal, Raytheon, which acquired Hughes, said 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.