Federal Judge Declares Key West City Employee Drug Testing Policy Unconstitutional

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
May 12, 2014 12:00 am

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Key West woman had city job offer rescinded after she refused to comply with mandatory urinalysis; lawsuit brought by ACLU on her behalf challenged policy as violation of Constitutional ban on unreasonable searches

May 12, 2014

CONTACT: 212-549-2666, media@aclu.org

KEY WEST, FLOn Friday, May 9th, a federal judge issued a decision in a lawsuit – brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida on behalf of a Key West woman – declaring unconstitutional the City of Key West’s policy requiring applicants for jobs with the City to be drug tested. The lawsuit, which challenged the policy as a violation of the Constitution’s protections against unreasonable government searches, was filed in May of 2013 after the City revoked a job offer for the position of the City’s Recycling Coordinator to Key West resident Karen Cabanas Voss after she refused to submit to a suspicionless search of her bodily fluids.

“We are pleased to have won this victory which protects City of Key West job applicants against being treated by their government like suspected criminals,” stated ACLU of Florida staff attorney Shalini Goel Agarwal, the lead attorney in the case. “This decision is just the most recent in a series of court rulings that say people don’t sacrifice their constitutional rights when they choose to serve their communities as public servants.”

In January 2013, Key West offered Voss a job as its Recycling Coordinator. When she reported to human resources to fill out employee paperwork, the City demanded she provide a urine sample. Voss objected to the City’s across-the-board suspicionless drug testing and complained to the City Attorney’s office that testing of government job applicants can be required only for a specific group of “safety-sensitive” positions. Instead of respecting the privacy of Voss and other applicants for employment, Key West revoked the job offer and hired someone else.

In Friday’s ruling, U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King rejected the City’s argument—that it could categorically drug test all job applicants even though it could not drug test all employees—because the law does not allow the government to “violate a person’s rights under the Fourth Amendment so long as prior notice of the impending violation is given.” According to the Judge, the City failed to demonstrate “a special need or important governmental interest which justifies the [policy’s] Fourth Amendment intrusion[.]”

“I’m really pleased that the court has agreed that people shouldn’t be subject to this kind of invasive search without a good reason just because they want to serve the city,” stated Voss. “When I was told I would have to give the City a sample of my bodily fluids as an applicant for a job encouraging people to recycle, it felt dirty – like the City was assuming I had done something wrong. I’m glad that the court today agreed that it was wrong and that going forward people won’t have to feel like the city they want to serve doesn’t respect them.”

The judge’s order is just the most recent victory for Fourth Amendment protections against invasive mandatory government urinalysis programs in the employment context. In December 2012, the ACLU of Florida challenged an employee drug testing policy in the City of DeFuniak Springs, Florida. The city council shortly thereafter voted to repeal that policy. The ACLU is also representing the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 79 in a challenge to a 2011 Executive Order by Florida Governor Rick Scott mandating that state employees and job applicants in the governor’s purview submit to suspicionless urinalysis. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the governor’s appeal of an Eleventh Circuit ruling that the overly-broad order was unconstitutional.

“The government can’t compel people to submit their bodily fluids for government inspection as a condition of holding or applying for a job unless there is a safety reason or actual suspicion of drug use,” added the ACLU of Florida’s Agarwal. “We are glad that Key West will now respect the Fourth Amendment’s restrictions on invasive government searches and we hope other governments in Florida will look to this decision when crafting their own policies.”

The judge’s order is available here:

More information about the case is available here:

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