Hospital Employee Properly Fired for Failure to Disclose Drug Abuse, Third Circuit Finds

Although former drug addicts are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Third Circuit recently held that a hospital legitimately fired a recovering drug addict who lied about his treatment when he was hired. The court’s determination in Robert Reilly v. Lehigh Valley Hospital emphasizes the importance of basing adverse employment decisions on legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons, and following proper protocol with respect to an employee’s health information.

In this case, a hospital security guard completed a six-page employee health information form after receiving a conditional employment offer. On this form, he denied being diagnosed with or treated for alcoholism or drug addiction. After one of his shifts, the security guard went to the emergency room of the hospital where he worked for an eye injury that he believed he had sustained on the job. While being treated, he revealed to the treating physician that he had a history of narcotics use and was a recovering drug addict. The treating physician noted this history on the Emergency Department Physician Clinical Report. This report was sent to the hospital’s health services department, which manages workers’ compensation injuries. Shortly thereafter, the department notified Human Resources that the employee was a recovering addict and had not been truthful on his employment form. As a result, the hospital terminated his employment for failure to disclose that he was a recovering addict.

The security guard sued the hospital claiming he was terminated because he was a recovering drug addict, in violation of the ADA and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. However, the security guard was unable to show that the employer’s reason for his termination – that he lied on his employment application – was a pretext for disability discrimination. Therefore, the Third Circuit upheld the lower court’s summary dismissal of the employee’s discrimination claims. Although the ADA specifically protects former drug addicts who are no longer using illegal drugs, the hospital terminated the security guard for his dishonesty, which is permissible.

The court declined to consider the employee’s claim that the hospital violated the ADA by disclosing his medical records to the human resources department after his visit to the emergency room because it was not properly pled in the lower court. That issue remains a potentially troubling one for healthcare employers who treat their own employees, and employers are cautioned to consult with counsel about the appropriate course of action in these situations.

Photo credit: Tupungato

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.