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U.S. Steel Corporation violated federal law when it applied a nationwide policy of requiring probationary employees to undergo random alcohol tests and fired an employee as a result of such a test, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it announced on October 5.
The EEOC charges that U.S. Steel required Abigail DeSimone, an employee at the company’s Clairton, Pa., facility, to undergo a random breath alcohol test during her probationary period even though the company had no reasonable basis to believe that she had violated the company’s drug and alcohol policy. When the test showed a false positive result for alcohol, DeSimone immediately advised the nurse who administered the test that DeSimone had not ingested any alcohol in the past month and that her medical condition might have caused or contributed to the positive test result, according to the EEOC’s lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Civil Action No. 2:10-cv-01284.
After the company nurse refused her request for an alternative test, on the same day, DeSimone obtained a blood alcohol test from her physician, which registered negative for alcohol. Her doctor later faxed the test results to U.S. Steel at the company’s request. Nonetheless, the EEOC said, U.S. Steel terminated DeSimone as a result of its unlawful medical examination in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
Since at least 2006, the EEOC asserts, U.S. Steel has had a policy in its basic labor agreement in effect at its Clairton facility and other facilities nationwide which provides for the random alcohol testing of probationary employees and does not require the company to have a reasonable basis for subjecting the employee to the random test, in violation of the ADA.
The ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability or perceived disability. The ADA provides that once a person has been hired and started work, an employer generally can only require a medical exam such as an alcohol test if the employer has reason to believe the employee would not be able to perform a job successfully or safely because of a medical condition or if the employer needs medical documentation to support an employee’s request for an accommodation.
The EEOC attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement before filing suit. The agency seeks monetary damages on behalf of DeSimone and other affected probationary employees, an immediate cessation of U.S. Steel’s practice and procedure of administering random alcohol testing of probationary employees, and other injunctive relief.
“Although an employer may, of course, prohibit the usage of illegal drugs and alcohol in the workplace and hold all employees to the same conduct and performance standards, the ADA strictly restricts workplace medical examinations, including breath alcohol tests,” said Regional Attorney Debra Lawrence of the EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office. “An employer can only require an employee to submit to a medical examination such as an alcohol test if the examination is job-related and consistent with business necessity. The EEOC is committed to eradicating systemic discrimination in the workplace, including blanket policies mandating medical examinations that violate federal law.”
During Fiscal Year 2009, disability discrimination charges reached a record level of 21,451, an increase of 10 percent from the prior fiscal year.
According to its Web site, www.uss.com, Pittsburgh-headquartered U.S. Steel Corporation, a Fortune 500 company which identifies itself as the largest integrated steel producer headquartered in the United States, employs more than 42,000 employees worldwide.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its Web site at www.eeoc.gov.