CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Lonza America, Inc., which formerly operated in Charleston, Tenn., as Arch Chemicals, Inc., a manufacturer of pool and spa sanitizers and related treatment products, violated federal law by conducting unlawful medical exams and then firing a recovering opioid addict, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
Based in Morristown, N.J., Lonza manufactures chemicals and ingredients for the pharmaceutical industry.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, an employee who had worked for Lonza for over 10 years tested positive for a controlled substance. Lonza suspended the employee, forced him into counseling with a clinical psychologist, and conditioned his return to work on his discontinued use of the drug. Lonza later learned that the employee was a recovering opioid addict participating in a Medication Assisted Treatment program with a legal prescription for an opioid medication. Despite this, Lonza failed to adjust the drug test to account for the prescription and still required that he stop using it. After the employee tested positive a second time for a controlled substance (i.e. the legally prescribed opioid medication), Lonza terminated his employment.
Such alleged conduct violates Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Lonza America, Inc., f/d/b/a Arch Chemicals, Inc., Civil Action No. 1:20-cv-00311) in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, Southern Division, after first attempting to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The agency’s Nashville Area Office investigated the charge of discrimination. The EEOC’s lawsuit seeks back pay for the terminated employee and injunctive relief to require Lonza to permit workers taking prescription medication that does not interfere with their jobs to continue to perform their work.
“There is an opioid epidemic in America,” said Delner Franklin-Thomas, district director of the EEOC’s Memphis District Office, which has jurisdiction over Arkansas, Tennessee and portions of Mississippi. “Employees who are in treatment for opioid addiction and lawfully using opioid medication are protected by the ADA. When employees under treatment for opioid addiction lose their jobs, it can have a chilling effect on the workforce and the addiction recovery community at large. The Commission is committed to enforcing the ADA and its protections for recovering opioid addicts.”
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.