Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Limits Application of the ADA

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On November 3, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a decision in the case of Bates v. Dura Automotive Systems Inc. that appropriately limits the protection provided by portions of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") to individuals who are actually "disabled," as defined by the ADA. In the Dura case, concerning an employer's regulation of its employees' use of legal prescription drugs, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the provision of the ADA at issue (addressing employer policies that "screen out or tend to screen out" individuals with disabilities) only provides a cause of action for affected employees who actually have a recognized disability. As such, the mere fact that an employer policy has the potential to screen out such employees is insufficient, said policy must actually adversely affect an individual with a disability before suit can be brought under this provision.

As set forth above, the Dura case involved an employer's policy regulating its employees' use of legal prescription drugs. The employer, in the manufacturing industry, determined that the workplace accident rate at one of its plants was higher than that of otherwise-comparable plants, and suspected that drug use (either legal or illegal) might be the cause. Accordingly, the employer designed a program whereby it began testing employees for substances it believed could be dangerous in the workplace. In addition to illegal substances, employees were also screened for substances commonly found in a variety of prescription medications, where those substances could adversely affect employee safety or performance. If an employee tested positive due to use of a prescription medication, the employer provided the employee an opportunity to transition to a medication without the substance at issue....

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