By Judy Greenwald, Crain News Service
NEW ORLEANS (Aug. 14, 2013) — An employer did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) when it terminated an employee who twice failed to complete a drug treatment program, an appellate court has ruled in upholding a lower court dismissal.
Bryan Shirley worked for Wyman-Gordon Forgings L.P., a unit of Portland, Ore.-based Precision Castparts Corp., for 12 years, according to the Aug. 12 ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans in Bryan Shirley v. Precision Castparts Corp.
While he had been prescribed Vicodin by his doctor for a long time to manage the pain from various work injuries, he began visiting physicians at other pain clinics to collect additional prescriptions for the same drug without informing those physicians of his other prescriptions, according to the ruling.
After a near overdose in November 2009, Mr. Shirley requested medical leave from Wyman-Gordon. He was terminated by the company in December after twice failing to complete a treatment program. He sued his employer, charging it with violating the ADA and FMLA when it fired him.
Exclusion for illegal misuse of painkillers
The ADA has a drug-use exclusion that applies to the illegal misuse of painkilling drugs controlled by prescription, the appellate court said.
Mr. Shirley asserted he was fired not for his use of illegal drugs, but because he failed to complete the treatment program. However, the court said in its ruling, "His logic is flawed beyond cavil." The company "required Shirley to complete the drug treatment program only because of his admitted drug problem, and he was fired after he failed to complete that program, not once, but twice."
The unanimous three-judge panel also rejected Mr. Shirley's FMLA claim.
"Although denying an employee the reinstatement to which he is entitled generally violates the FMLA, denying reinstatement to an employee whose right to restored employment had already been extinguished—for legitimate reasons unrelated to his efforts to secure FMLA leave—does not violate the Act," according to the appellate court.
Noting that the second time Mr. Shirley went into the program he checked himself out after only a single day, the ruling said to suppose "that Shirley was denied a right to which he was entitled strains credulity to the breaking point."
This report appeared in Business Insurance magazine, a Chicago-based sister publication of Tire Business.