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Anderson v. Thompson Creek Mining Co.

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

May 2, 2013

SHERMAN ANDERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
THOMPSON CREEK MINING CO., a Colorado Corporation doing business in Idaho; and PSYCHEMEDICS CORPORATION, a Delaware Corporation doing business in Idaho, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM DECISION

B. LYNN WINMILL, Chief District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

The Court has before it cross-motions for summary judgment. The Court heard oral argument on May 1, 2013, and took the motions under advisement. For the reasons explained below, the Court will deny plaintiff's motion and grant defendant's motion.

LITIGATION BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Anderson was fired by defendant Thompson Creek Mining Co. following a positive drug test. Anderson claims that Thompson Creek's drug testing procedures, and its decision to fire him based on the results of those procedures, violated his rights under the Idaho Private Employer Alcohol and Drug-Free Workplace Act, I.C. § 72-1701, et seq. (the Act). His complaint contains two counts, the first alleging that Thompson Creek violated the Act and the second alleging that he was wrongfully terminated in contravention of the public policy established by the Act.

The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment addressing both claims in Anderson's complaint. The Court will examine each claim.

ANALYSIS

Count One - Violation of the Act

Anderson alleges that the Act provides a private right of action for an employee fired for a positive drug test when the employer fails to follow the provisions of the Act in conducting the test. To resolve this claim, the Court must examine the Act in detail.

The Act establishes drug and alcohol testing guidelines for employers, Idaho Code § 72-1701, and sets out detailed provisions for the taking of samples and the testing itself. Id. at § 72-1704. For example, the Act requires that the samples be (1) collected with "due regard to the privacy of the individual being tested, " (2) labeled to "preclude the possibility of mislabeling, " (3) handled with "reasonable chain-of-custody and confidentiality procedures" to avoid "contamination, " and (4) tested in a way that conforms to "scientifically accepted analytical methods and procedures." Id. at (1)-(6).

Before any test can be used as a basis for action by an employer, there must be a "mandatory second or additional test of the same sample that is conducted by a laboratory utilizing a chromatographic technique such as gas chromatography-mass spectrometry or another comparable reliable analytical method." Id. at (7). The Act specifically protects employees who have tested positive, giving them the right to request a retest of the same sample within seven days. Id. at § 72-1706(2). If the retest is negative, the employer "will reimburse the cost of the retest, compensate the employee for his time if suspended without pay, or if terminated solely because of the positive test, the employee shall be reinstated with back pay." Id. The employer must have a written policy complying with the Act and containing a notification to employees that "violation of the policy may result in termination due to misconduct." Idaho Code § 72-1705.

These provisions are all "voluntary." Id. at § 72-1701(1). To promote compliance, the Act offers four principal benefits to an employer who follows its provisions. First, compliance could reduce taxes for the employer. An employee who is fired for a positive test that complies with the Act will be presumed to have committed "misconduct" and will not receive unemployment benefits, thereby saving the employer from an increase in his unemployment tax. Id. at § 72-1701(1); Desilet v. Glass Doctor, 132 P.2d 412, 415-16 (Id.Sup.Ct. 2006).

Second, compliance provides protection from lawsuits. The Act contains a "safe harbor" provision for employers, protecting them from being sued by workers who were fired as a result of a positive drug test, so long as the test complied with the Act, unless the test result was false and the employer knew or clearly should have known the result was false. Id. at § 72-1711(1).

Third, compliance saves the employer money on his worker's compensation insurance premiums. Id. at § 72-1716. And fourth, compliance renders employers eligible to contract for ...


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