A federal judge in Pittsburgh has delivered a rebuke to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, throwing out a case the commission brought against U.S. Steel Corp over random alcohol testing for new employees at a plant in western Pennsylvania.
In a 47-page decision granting summary judgment to U.S. Steel, U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer on Wednesday shot down an attempt by the commission to curb the random alcohol tests, saying they were necessary for the job.
Employees typically operate heavy machinery and face hazardous conditions such as heights and high temperatures, the decision said. The random testing program is part of the company’s contract with the steelworkers’ union, which represents the plant’s employees.
The case originated with Abigail DeSimone, who was dismissed by U.S. Steel in February 2008 after she failed a breath alcohol test shortly after she began employment at the plant in Clairton, Pennsylvania. DeSimone said the test registered a false positive because she has diabetes. She sent in a negative blood alcohol test by her physician, but the company still dismissed her, according to the EEOC.
In September 2010 the EEOC sued U.S. Steel, alleging that the test violated the federal Americans With Disabilities Act, which requires that a company have a reasonable basis to conduct a medical test, and arguing that the practice affects new employees throughout the company.
DeSimone settled privately with U.S. Steel in March 2012, and the EEOC continued to pursue its claims against the company’s practices.
In Wednesday’s ruling, Fischer sided with U.S. Steel’s argument that the random testing program is “job-related” and consistent with “business necessity,” and therefore does not violate the ADA.
The commission did not respond to a message left on its media line and Eric Dreiband, a lawyer at Jones Day representing the company, did not return a call seeking comment.
Manesh Rath, an attorney at Keller and Heckman in Washington who represents companies in employment litigation, said the EEOC’s case was an aggressive display of two central strategic aims of the commission: trying to use individual cases to spur companywide changes and addressing emerging areas of employment law.
“I think they were trying to push the envelope in terms of what constitutes prohibited medical testing under the ADA,” Rath said. “Mercifully, the judge in the case ruled that alcohol testing is permissible if imposed with the intention of furthering worker safety.”
The case is Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. United States Steel Corporation et al., U.S. District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania, No. 10-1824.
By Carlyn Kolker, Feb 21 (Reuters)
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