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ADA. (U.S. Judicial Decisions).

A federal appeals court has ruled that a company's blanket rule of refusing to rehire employees that had been fired or who quit to avoid being fired could violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if the employee in question had been terminated because of a drug addiction.

In July of 1991, Joel Hernandez was given a drug test at his workplace, Hughes Missile Systems Company, where he had been employed for 25 years. He tested positive for cocaine. The company knew that Hernandez had also had an alcohol problem. Hughes gave Hernandez the option of resigning, which he did. The reason for the resignation was documented in Hernandez's file as "quit in lieu of discharge."

On January 24, 1994, Hernandez applied to Hughes to be rehired for his former position. Along with his application, Hernandez submitted two reference letters: one from the pastor of his church and another from a counselor attesting that Hemandez attended Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) regularly and was committed to his recovery.

Hernandez's application was forwarded to the company's labor relations department and was reviewed by Joanne Bockmiller. Because the application indicated that Hernandez had worked for Hughes in the past, Bockmiller pulled his file. When she saw the "quit in lieu of discharge" note, Bockmiller determined that Hernandez was ineligible for rehire because of the company's blanket policy of not rehiring employees who were fired or who resigned in lieu of termination.

Hernandez filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claiming that his application was rejected because of his disability--his record of drug and alcohol addiction. The EEOC sent a letter to Hughes informing the company that it intended to sue for discrimination under the ADA.

Hughes responded to the EEOC by letter indicating that Hemandez's application had been rejected because Hemandez had used drugs while previously employed and had "shown a complete lack of evidence indicating successful drug rehabilitation." Hughes also went on to state its policy of refusing rehire of any employee who had been terminated for violation of company rules and regulations. The company filed for summary judgment-a hearing based on the facts of a case, without a trial--arguing that Hernandez had failed to establish a case of discrimination because Hernandez never claimed to be disabled.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona granted summary judgment without comment. Hernandez appealed the decision.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found in favor of Hernandez, ruling that he could pursue his ADA case against Hughes. The court ruled that Hernandez in fact did not claim to be disabled; he claimed that Hughes considered him disabled when it refused to rehire him because it perceived he was a drug addict. The court also noted that while Bockmiller claimed not to have known about Hernandez's history of drug use, this position was questionable. The court noted that Bockmiller would have seen the letter of recommendation regarding AA attendance and would have been aware that Hernandez was a recovering alcoholic.

The court ruled that Hernandez could pursue his case and that the burden of proof shifted to Hughes to prove it had a nondiscriminatory reason for not rehiring Hernandez. (Hernandez v. Hughes Missile Systems Company, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, No. 01-15512, 2002)
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Title Annotation:Hernandez v. Hughes Missile Systems Company
Author:Anderson, Teresa
Publication:Security Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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