Appeals Court Halts Random Drug Testing of Forest Service Job Corps Employees
Monday, July 16, 2012
Random drug testing of government employees, this time by the U.S. Forest Service, was struck down again recently by a federal appeals court, which called the agency’s policy of drug testing all employees of the Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers a “solution in search of a problem.” That conclusion echoed a ruling issued in April by U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro, who likewise threw out Florida Governor Rick Scott’s mandatory drug-testing program for state workers largely because there was “no evidence of a drug-use problem at the covered agencies.”
According to the opinion issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the Job Corps program includes 28 residential centers in remote rural areas that are run by the Forest Service, which offer vocational training related to conservation and management of public natural resources and recreational areas. The residential students range from 16 to 24 years old and are subject to a “zero tolerance” policy toward drugs, including an initial drug test.
After a 1995 investigation identified drug issues among Job Corps students, the parent agency of the Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, tried to force all its Job Corps employees into random drug testing, but backed off in response to objections raised by the workers’ union, the National Federation of Federal Employees. But in 2010 the Forest Service mandated that all Job Corps Center staff would be subject to random testing, and the union went to court and asked for a declaratory judgment that this random testing policy violates the Fourth Amendment.
Although the lower court sided with the agency by emphasizing the agency’s interest in preventing illegal drug use by students and staff, the appeals court held that the Fourth Amendment requires more. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution states that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons…against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation.”
Since the 1989 Supreme Court case of Treasury Employees v. Von Raab, it has been settled law that requiring government employees to produce urine samples constitutes a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, which means there must be probable cause or some other “special needs” to justify such an intrusion into one’s privacy.
Following that precedent, the appeals court tossed out the sweeping inclusion of all Job Corps Center employees in random drug testing and ordered that the union be granted a preliminary injunction. Together with Judge Ungaro’s decision in Florida, the message from the judiciary seems clear when it comes to drug testing: if it’s not broke, don’t say you need drug testing to fix it.
To Learn More:
NFFE Successfully Challenges Forest Service Random Drug Testing Policy (by Susan McGuire Smith, FedSmith)
National Federation of Federal Employees v. Vilsack (D.C. Circuit, 2012)
Florida Judge Rules Gov. Scott’s Random Drug Testing of State Employees Unconstitutional (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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