Arbitration Upheld in Drug Test Case

Arbitration Upheld in Drug Test Case
Posted by FoM on November 28, 2000 at 09:12:05 PT
By Laurie Asseo, Associated Press Writer
Source: Associated Press
 Courts can enforce an arbitration award that requires an employer to reinstate a truck driver who has twice tested positive for drug use, the Supreme Court said Tuesday. The justices ruled unanimously that a West Virginia coal company must reinstate a truck driver who tested positive for marijuana use two times. Under a union contract, the case had been submitted to an arbitrator who decided the employee should be reinstated after serving a suspension and undergoing drug treatment. 
The company, Eastern Associated Coal Corp. had argued that the order must be overturned because it violated a public policy against performing safety-sensitive jobs under the influence of illegal drugs. Justice Stephen G. Breyer, writing for the court, said the reinstatement order ``violates no specific provision of any law or regulation.'' Instead, the justice said it followed federal Transportation Department rules allowing employees to return to work after undergoing drug treatment. ``We recognize that reasonable people can differ as to whether reinstatement or discharge is the more appropriate remedy here,'' Breyer wrote. ``But both employer and union have agreed to entrust this ... decision to an arbitrator.'' The case involves James Smith, who worked for Eastern in the Madison, W.Va., region as a member of a road crew, which required him to drive heavy vehicles on public highways. In 1996 he tested positive for marijuana. Eastern sought to fire him but an arbitrator ordered him reinstated after serving a 30-day suspension and participating in drug treatment and random tests. Smith passed four random drug tests but in 1997 he again tested positive for marijuana. Eastern tried to fire him again, but the arbitrator ordered the company to take him back after a new suspension of just over three months, plus drug treatment and random tests. Eastern asked a federal judge to overturn the reinstatement, raising the public policy argument. A federal judge and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against him, and on Tuesday the Supreme Court agreed. Breyer said a federal law requiring testing of transportation employees provides for rehabilitation of those who test positive. Further, he said labor law policy favors resolving disciplinary issues through arbitration if labor and management have agreed to do so. The order to reinstate Smith ``does not condone Smith's conduct or ignore the risk to public safety that drug use by truck drivers may pose,'' Breyer wrote. His opinion was joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony M. Kennedy, David H. Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote separately to agree on somewhat different grounds that Smith should be reinstated, and Justice Clarence Thomas joined his opinion. The case is Eastern Associated Coal Corp. v. United Mine Workers of America, 99-1038. On the Net: For the Supreme Court web site: Source: Associated PressAuthor: Laurie Asseo, Associated Press WriterPublished: : Tuesday, November 28, 2000 Copyright  2000 Associated Press Related Article:Court Issues Orders and Hears Drug Testing Case Drug Testing Archives
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