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Court dismisses ADA suit filed by fired employee taking opioids

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A federal district court has dismissed an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit filed by an employee who was terminated after his employer learned he was taking both prescription morphine and nonprescription opioids.

Robert Sloan worked for Tipp City, Ohio-based Repacorp Inc., which manufactures labels with the use of heavy machinery, from March 2007 to February 2014, according to the Feb. 27 ruling by the U.S. District Court in Dayton, Ohio, in Robert Sloan v. Repacorp., Inc.

He spent about 10%-20% of his time working with heavy machinery, which was indisputably very dangerous, according to the ruling.

Repacorp’s employee handbook requires all employees to notify management if they are taking nonprescription or prescription medication, and Mr. Sloan understood that testing positive for these could result in his termination, according to the ruling.

In the year prior to his hiring, though, Mr. Sloan began taking morphine for neck and back pain, but did not tell his supervisors. He also admitted taking Vicodin, an opiate pain medication, on at least two occasions at work, according to the ruling.

After his company learned of his drug use, Mr. Sloan voluntarily submitted to a drug test and tested positive for hydrocodone, the opiate found in Vicodin. He was put on leave in February 2014 and terminated less than two weeks later.

Mr. Sloan filed suit on charges including disability discrimination and retaliation under the ADA. The court granted Repacorp summary judgment dismissing the case.

Mr. Sloan alleges he was disabled because of degenerative disc disease and arthritis in his neck and back and fired because of his disability, said the ruling. 

The ruling said the company’s president had asked Mr. Sloan to consult with his doctor to determine if there were any alterative medications or treatments for his pain that did not include opiates, but Mr. Sloan responded he needed to stay on his medication and would not stop taking it.

“It appears undisputed that Sloan failed to cooperate with (the president’s) reasonable request for additional information concerning Sloan’s alleged disability,” said the ruling.

“While Sloan argues that Repacorp discriminated against him for terminating his employment without properly determining that he posted a ‘direct threat’ while under the influence of morphine...Sloan overlooks Repacorp’s main point, i.e. that Sloan’s employment ended not because Repacorp concluded he was a direct threat to himself or others, but because Sloan impeded its ability to investigate the extent of his disability and determine whether his disabling pain required use of prescription morphine, or whether a non-opiate medication could reasonably accommodate his disability,“ said the ruling.

“In other words, Sloan failed to cooperate and/or participate in the interactive process required of all employees requesting accommodations under the ADA,” said the ruling, in granting the company summary judgment in the ADA discrimination claim. The retaliation claim was dismissed as well.