Lawsuit Concerns the Protections Afforded under the Americans with Disabilities Act to Persons with Former Alcohol or Drug Problems <br> Betty Ford Center, American Society of Addiction Medicine, Johnson Institute and others defend equal access to employment and other basic services
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals who are in drug treatment programs or have successfully treated their addiction. But the Raytheon Corporation, with the help of the Bush Administration, is now urging the Supreme Court to roll back the protections that Congress conferred upon persons in recovery. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case, Raytheon v. Hernandez, on Wednesday, October 8th.
Mr. Hernandez worked for the Raytheon Company (formerly known as Hughes Missile Systems Company) for twenty-five years, starting as a janitor and working his way up to Calibration Service Technician. In 1991, rather than be fired, Mr. Hernandez resigned after a positive drug test. In 1994, after successfully treating his addiction, Mr. Hernandez reapplied for a job at Raytheon and was denied consideration for rehire. Mr. Hernandez filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and later sued Raytheon, alleging that the company's rejection of his application violated the ADA.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit sided with Mr. Hernandez, ruling that he had a valid case of discrimination on the basis of his disability. The Raytheon Corporation, however, with the backing of the Bush Justice Department, has asked the Supreme Court to overturn the Ninth Circuit ruling.
Daniel Abrahamson, an attorney with Drug Policy Alliance, believes that, "A U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming the Ninth Circuit decision would represent a victory for the many Americans whom Congress sought to protect under the ADA, particularly those who have overcome great hurdles to succeed in recovery. A Supreme Court reversal, however, would give employers a green light to use past problems of chemical dependency as grounds for permanently excluding job seekers from the workforce."
While the ADA does not cover current drug users or any behavior caused by addiction that may be a violation of company rules or policies, it explicitly protects individuals who are participating in a supervised drug treatment program, have successfully completed a drug treatment program, or have been successfully rehabilitated and no longer use illegal drugs.
John de Miranda, executive director of the National Association on Alcohol, Drugs and Disability stated, "People in recovery, or who work in the alcohol and drug problems field need to understand that a diagnosis of addiction automatically confers the legal status of disability, and that through laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act such individuals are protected against discrimination in the workplace. This is the law of the land that we hope the Supreme Court will affirm in the Hernandez case."
"This is a blatant case of discrimination," said John Avery, Director of Government Relations for the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors. "Mr. Hernandez has a chronic medical condition from which he has recovered. He deserves the same employment opportunities as other Americans. All Americans with disabling conditions understand that if employers and courts can disallow diagnoses based on personal prejudices the core of ADA protection under law is at stake."
In July 2003, Drug Policy Alliance submitted a friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court supporting Mr. Hernandez on behalf of national treatment providers and associations including the Betty Ford Center, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, NAADAC/The Association of Addiction Professionals, National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers and the Johnson Institute. These organizations believe that there is no valid reason to prevent an individual who formerly used drugs from being considered for rehire and worry about the effects of a negative decision in this case.
"We should celebrate recovery, not punish it," said Johnny Allem, president of the Johnson Institute, "Workforce discrimination affects all people in recovery. Protecting disabling addiction as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act is important in ensuring the civil rights of all recovered people."
Mr. Hernandez will be available for media interviews after the Supreme Court oral arguments at a reception hosted by The Johnson Institute and the National Association on Alcohol, Drugs, and Disability. The reception will take place at the McLendon Room, National Press Club from 2:30 pm -- 4:00 pm. Members of the hosting organizations will also be available for interviews. Johnny Allem from the Johnson Institute may be reached at 202-662-7107.