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Federal Court Denies Dismissal in Painkiller Discrimination Case

A federal court in Ohio has dismissed a motion for summary judgment in a case where a prospective employee was not hired after disclosing he used a prescription opioid painkiller. The case is a sign of the stigma that many people with chronic pain face as they seek employment in their respective fields. However, the plaintiff’s own motion for summary judgment was also defeated, meaning the case may have a long way to go before it is resolved.

What is This Case?

In Hartmann v. Graham Packaging, L.P., No. 1:19-cv-488 (S.D. Ohio January 25, 2022), a man applied for a position as a forklift driver with the defendant company. During the application interview, the plaintiff disclosed to the company that he took a prescription opioid painkiller. In response, the defendant asked for a doctor’s note certifying his medication would not pose a safety hazard, which he provided.

After the interview, the plaintiff underwent a pre-employment drug screening, which he passed, but the test result was still marked “safety-sensitive.” As a result, he was asked to get another doctor’s note, which he did, but the employer disagreed on whether the second note actually addressed their concerns. As a result, the plaintiff was not hired on the grounds that he posed a safety hazard.

What is The Legal Issue Being Discussed?

The primary issue being debated was whether or not the defendant was in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Title I of the ADA protects people with disabilities, as well as those regarded as having disabilities, from discrimination on the basis of those disabilities by their employer. This includes decisions related to hiring, firing, raises, promotions, and any other aspect of employment. However, this protection does not extend to cases where a person’s disability would fundamentally inhibit their ability to safely and effectively carry out their job duties.

How Did the Court Rule?

The court ruled that the plaintiff’s use of a prescription painkiller, and the negative side effects thereof, were sufficient to qualify as protected under the ADA. This is true even though the plaintiff never disclosed the underlying medical condition he was being treated for. However, the court refused to determine whether the employer had actually violated the ADA, as there was some question whether their concerns about the plaintiff’s ability to perform the job were rooted in genuine safety concerns, or if they were acting in a discriminatory fashion. As a result, the motions for summary judgment on both sides were dismissed.

What Happens Now?

With both motions for summary judgment failing, the case will now proceed to determine if the employer was indeed discriminating against the plaintiff for their painkiller use, or if this was a more innocent error. If it is determined that the employer was discriminating against the plaintiff, they could face significant legal penalties. For the plaintiff, however, it is a legal victory in the battle to hold a potentially discriminatory employer accountable.

If you have gotten into a legal dispute with your employer, it is important that you seek the guidance of an experienced New York employment lawyer who can protect your legal rights and advocate on your behalf. Steven Mitchell Sack, the Employee’s Lawyer, is a New York employment lawyer with more than 40 years’ experience handling the many aspects of employment law. To schedule an appointment with New York City employment lawyer Steven Mitchell Sack, call (917) 371-8000 or visit his contact page.

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