Company Violated Federal Law When It Fired a Recovering Opioid Addict, Federal Agency Charged
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Lonza America LLC, a New Jersey-based company in the pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry, will pay $150,000 and provide other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.
The EEOC’s lawsuit charged that Lonza terminated a 14-year employee at its Charleston, Tenn., plant after the employee twice tested positive for a legally controlled substance. The lawsuit further alleged that although 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, Lonza forced him into counseling with a clinical psychologist. Lonza also conditioned the employee’s return to work on his discontinued use of the legally prescribed medication.
Such alleged conduct violates Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination based on 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.
Under the consent decree resolving the lawsuit, Lonza will pay $150,000 in monetary damages to the employee. Lonza also agreed to provide ADA-related training. In February 2019, Lonza sold the facility in Charleston, Tenn., where the former employee worked.
“This case underscores the importance of having a staff of decision makers who understand the ADA and its protections for recovering opioid addicts,” said Faye A. Williams, regional attorney for the EEOC's Memphis District Office, which has jurisdiction over Arkansas, Tennessee and portions of Mississippi. “The law does not support employment decisions based on unfounded fears, concerns or prejudices about a recovering opioid addict’s use of lawfully prescribed opioid medication.”
Edmond Sims, acting district director of the Memphis District Office, added, “We hope this litigation has raised awareness amongst employers and employees of the protections afforded by the ADA, for recovering opioid addicts, and results in more informed decision making and fewer violations of the ADA. The EEOC remains 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.