The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas ruled on September 12, 2008 that a nurse who was fired for failing to submit to drug testing is not able to pursue a wrongful termination claim against her employer. Hamilton v. Tenet Corp., W.D. Ark., No. 08-6057 (9/12/08).
Hamilton, a registered nurse, was accused by a patient of being under the infl uence of drugs while working. As a result of the patient’s claim, Hamilton’s direct supervisor requested that she submit to a drug test; Hamilton refused. She was terminated within days of her refusal.
The hospital employee handbook stated all employees were at-will and could be terminated by either party at any time. However, the handbook also contained a section specifically devoted to mandatory drug-testing and listed three grounds under which an employee could be drug tested: post-accident, for reasonable suspicion, or random testing for employees previously testing positive. If the employee refused drug testing in any of these three circumstances, the handbook stated the action would be considered insubordination and the employee could be terminated.
Hamilton argued the provision of the employee handbook dealing with drug testing converted the at-will relationship to non-at-will and the hospital required just cause to terminate her employment.
The court found the handbook provisions did not convert the employment relationship from at-will to non-at-will. The Eighth Circuit had previously held that when supervisors make uncontested statements that employees will not be fired unless they refuse to take a drug test, a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether the employment is at-will. However, the court also explained the provisions that convert employment from at-will to non-at-will, “share the commonality of expressly concerning termination and limiting the discretion of the employer to terminate employees.” Hamilton’s situation did not fall under this exception because the handbook provisions Hamilton referenced did not limit the discretion of her employer to terminate her employment. Further, Hamilton did not allege an express promise by a supervisor not to terminate her unless certain conditions were met.