According to a recent ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a hiring policy that permanently disqualifies job candidates from future employment for failing a so-called ‘one strike rule’ drug test that eliminates from consideration job applicants who test positive for drug or alcohol use during the pre-employment screening process does not violate the either Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) or the protection of rehabilitated drug addicts under California employment law.

In the case, the Plaintiff, who wanted to be a longshoreman, first applied in 1997 at a port in southern California but suffered from an addiction to drugs and alcohol at that time. When the Defendant, the Pacific Maritime Association, administered its standard ‘one strike rule’ drug test as part of the pre-employment screening process, the Plaintiff failed the drug test and was disqualified from further consideration for employment at the port under the ‘one strike rule.’

Seven years later, in 2004, after he became clean and sober, the Plaintiff reapplied to be a longshoreman but the Defendant rejected the Plaintiff’s application under its employment screening policy due to his disqualification arising from a positive ‘one strike rule’ drug test. The Plaintiff filed a suit claiming disparate treatment and disparate impact under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the state Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and that the Defendant violated the ADA and the FEHA by discriminating against him on the basis of his protected status as a rehabilitated drug addict who had been successfully rehabilitated and no longer engaged in illegal drug use.

The Defendant’s strict employment screening ‘one strike rule’ drug test policy was adopted in response to numerous serious accidents and injuries on the job site and because the Defendant thought that job applicants who could not abstain from using an illegal drug – even after receiving an advanced notice of seven days about the drug test – showed less responsibility and interest in the job than applicants that passed the drug test. The Plaintiff’s suit alleged that the policy discriminated against recovering drug addicts and that that the Defendant adopted the policy to intentionally exclude recovered addicts.

In its ruling, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that the Defendant’s “one strike rule bars applicants based on conduct, testing positive for illegal drugs, regardless of whether their failed test was attributable to recreational drug use or an addiction,” and also held that the ‘one strike rule’ drug test policy for employment screening did not violate the law because the “rule eliminates all candidates who test positive for drug use,” and not just those whose test results were based on addictive use of drugs. The Court also noted that “the triggering event was a failed drug test, not an applicant’s drug problem.”

The case – Santiago Lopez v. Pacific Maritime Association – is available on the U.S. Courts for the Ninth Circuit website at:

About Employment Screening Resources (ESR): Founded in 1996 in the San Francisco Bay area with a mission to help employers and employees maintain safe workplaces, Employment Screening Resources (ESR) wrote the book on background checks with ‘The Safe Hiring Manual’ by ESR founder and President Lester Rosen. ESR is Accredited by The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS®) and is a Designated E-Verify Employer Agent helping U.S. businesses maintain legal workforces. For more information about Employment Screening Resources, visit or email ESR News Editor Thomas Ahearn at [email protected].



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