Drug test may unfairly affect black employees, fired officers claim

A lawsuit currently playing out on the East Coast provides a useful illustration of an important legal issue that can affect people nationwide, including those in Florida. The issue involves policies that are not necessarily intended to be discriminatory, but that nevertheless affect people of different races differently. This is known as "disparate impact," which is a form of racial discrimination and it is often illegal.

Drug test skewed against blacks, officers claim

The case in question involves a lawsuit over drug testing of people employed by the Boston Police Department. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include 10 individuals, all black, who say they were improperly fired, disciplined or denied employment based on what they claim were false positive results on a racially biased drug test during the years 1999 through 2006.

One of the plaintiffs was applicant whose job offer was revoked after his drug test came back positive, and another eight are former officers or cadets who were fired by the department as a result of testing positive for cocaine. A tenth plaintiff tested positive and was permitted to keep his job after going through a drug treatment program.

The test at issue in the case uses hair follicle samples to test for cocaine. All 10 of the plaintiffs deny using cocaine and say their positive test results were false. According to their claims, the test returned positive results for 1.3 percent of black employees and only 0.3 percent of other employees, the majority of whom are white. The plaintiffs say the type of hair common among black individuals is more likely to register a false positive on the test.

Disparate impact and racial discrimination in Florida

Because this particular case is unfolding in another jurisdiction, its outcome will not directly affect racial discrimination cases involving Florida employees. However, it draws attention to the issues of disparate impact and discriminatory employment practices, which are relevant to employees everywhere in the United States.

In Florida, employers are prohibited by both state and federal law from discriminating against employees and job applicants on the basis of race. This includes not only overtly discriminatory practices but also those that indirectly have an adverse impact on members of some races and not others, as is alleged to be the case in the case described here.

People who have been affected by racial discrimination in the workplace are encouraged to talk the situation over with an experienced employment lawyer. He or she can provide advice about the law as it applies to the specific circumstances at hand and inform clients of their rights and the legal options available to help protect them.