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Court to Decide If Drivers Who Tested Positive Must Be Rehired

March 21, 2000

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The U.S. Supreme Court plans to hear a case revolving around whether an employer can be forced by arbitration to reinstate a driver who tested positive for illegal drugs.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the case involves Eastern Associated Coal Corp. of Charleston, WV. Eastern protested the reinstatement of truck driver James Smith, who tested positive twice for marijuana use and was fired both times.
After the first incident, Smith sought arbitration under his union's contract. The arbitrator ruled that Smith should be allowed to return to work after a 30-day unpaid suspension if he participated in a substance abuse program. After the second incident, the arbitrator again said that Smith must be allowed to return to work, finding that the drug use was a "one-time lapse" caused by family problems.
Eastern challenged the arbitrator's ruling, citing federal drug testing requirements. The United Mine Workers of America argued that Smith was never accused of being under the influence of the drugs while working, and that U.S. regulations don't require that employees who test positive be automatically dismissed.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, VA, both upheld the arbitrator's rulings. The case is scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court during the term beginning this fall.

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