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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Public employee must serve in a “safety-sensitive” position in order to be subject to random testing for alcohol or unlawful drugs

Public employee must serve in a “safety-sensitive” position in order to be subject to random testing for alcohol or unlawful drugs
New York City Department of Transportation v R.B., OATH Index #1215/11

R.B., a maintenance worker employed by the Staten Island Ferry Division of the Department of Transportation was served with disciplinary charges after testing positive for marijuana in a random drug test.

R.B. challenged the Division’s subjecting him to a random drug and alcohol test that led to the disciplinary action, contending that as he did not serve in a “safety-sensitive” position as he did not perform work on the ferries or on ferry equipment and thus subjecting him to such testing was an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

OATH Administrative Law Judge Faye Lewis agreed, holding that because R.B. duties were custodial in nature, performed in the ferry buildings and grounds under direct supervision, subjecting him to such random testing violated his rights under the federal Constitution. Judge Lewis sustained R.B.'s motion to dismiss the disciplinary charges filed against him.

The Court of Appeals had approved random drug testing in specific instances such as the testing of law enforcement personnel assigned to narcotics interdiction [see Caruso v Ward, 72 NY2 432]. In contrast, in the Patchogue-Medford Congress of Teachers case, 70 NY2d 57, the court held that reasonable expectations of privacy required probable cause to permit the school district to require probationary teachers to undergo random testing for unlawful drugs.

As the Court of Appeals held in Delaraba v Nassau County Police Department, 83 N.Y.2d 367, “[i]t is well established law that random drug screening constitutes a search and seizure within the meaning of the Federal and State constitutions (National Treasury Employees Union v Von Raab, 489 US 656; Matter of Caruso v Ward, 72 NY2d 432). The guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures found in both the State and Federal Constitutions (NY Constitution, Article 1, 12; US Constitution, 4th Amend) is designed to protect the personal privacy and dignity of the individual against unwarranted intrusions by the State (Matter of Abe A., 56 NY2d 288; Matter of Patchogue-Medford Congress of Teachers v Board of Education of the Patchogue-Medford Union Free School District, 70 NY2d 57, 64).

“A three-pronged standard of review was articulated in Patchogue-Medford as it related to all probationary teachers eligible for appointment to submit to a urine test for the purpose of detecting potential drug abuse. This Court, invalidating the plan, held that a drug screening plan must be closely scrutinized and permitted only where: (1) the individual's privacy interests are minimal, (2) the government's interests are substantial, and (3) safeguards are in place to ensure that the individual's reasonable expectations of privacy are not subject to unregulated discretion (Patchogue-Medford, supra at 70).”

The general rule in New York State with respect to requiring a "non-security or safety sensitive" public employee to submit to random drug tests is that except where a negotiated agreement or statute authorizes or requires random drug testing, a public employer must have reasonable cause or justified suspicion to require an employee to take an involuntary drug test.

The R.B. decision is posted on the Internet at:

Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

A Reasonable Penalty Under The Circumstances at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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