Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, March 14, 2008
(03-13) 17:47 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- A city can't
require all job applicants to be tested for narcotics
and must instead show why drug use in a particular job
would be dangerous, a federal appeals court ruled
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San
Francisco ruled against the city of Woodburn, Ore.,
which argued it was entitled to maintain a drug-free
workplace by requiring job candidates to be screened
for drugs and alcohol.
The city was sued by Janet Lanier, whose job offer as
a part-time page at the city library was withdrawn in
2004 when she refused a drug and alcohol test. A
federal judge ruled the policy unconstitutional and
awarded Lanier $12,400 in damages and $44,000 in legal
fees, her lawyer said.
The appeals court said Thursday that the judge's
ruling went too far, because the city may be able to
justify drug-testing of applicants for some jobs. But
the court found no basis to test applicants for
Federal courts have upheld mandatory drug screening
for jobs in which performance "may pose a great danger
to the public," the appeals judges said. They cited
Supreme Court rulings allowing drug testing of
railroad crews after accidents and of customs agents
who search others for illegal drugs.
Another appeals court has upheld drug testing of
applicants to teach school in Tennessee, noting
teachers' duty to look after students' well-being.
But the Ninth Circuit court said Woodburn's rationale
for universal screening - that drug use is a serious
social problem affecting the performance of any job -
was rejected by the Supreme Court in 1997 when it
struck down Georgia's requirement that all candidates
for public office undergo narcotics testing to show
their commitment to the war on drugs.
The Supreme Court said the state was requiring testing
for purely symbolic reasons, which was not enough to
avoid the constitutional requirement that a search
warrant be based on evidence of wrongdoing.
The same reasoning applies to a city's drug testing of
applicants for everyday jobs with no connection to
safety or security, Judge Pamela Rymer said in the 3-0
To read the ruling, go to links.sfgate.com/ZCAB
E-mail Bob Egelko at firstname.lastname@example.org.