A federal district court in the District of Columbia has allowed a bus mechanic to proceed with claims of disability discrimination and retaliation, after he was fired for using Adderall to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”). McFadden v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, CV-12-940 (D.D.C. September 2, 2016).
McFadden was hired by WMATA as a bus mechanic in October 2008 and was subject to the regulations of the U.S. Department of Transportation (“DOT”). In 2009, he was diagnosed with ADHD and was prescribed the drug Adderall “to increase his focus and concentration.” Pursuant to a policy forbidding employees in safety-sensitive positions from using amphetamines, WMATA prohibited McFadden from working as a bus mechanic while taking Adderall, and suspended his employment after he tested positive for use of the drug. He later was fired but was reinstated under an agreement with his union. McFadden then filed a lawsuit.
The Court denied WMATA’s motion for summary judgment as to the disability discrimination claim, holding that there were genuine issues of material fact concerning whether the use of Adderall actually compromises safety and whether WMATA instructed McFadden to obtain certification from his physician to use Adderall while on duty. Moreover, the evidence showed that McFadden was more accident-prone before he started taking Adderall.
DOT-regulated employers must follow carefully the regulations addressing drivers’ use of prescription medications. A driver’s physician may provide a letter stating that it is safe for the driver to use the medication, but the DOT medical examiner then must review and make his own judgment. In the non-DOT context, employers should not have blanket policies prohibiting the use of certain drugs by employees, as such a policy could lead to claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act and comparable state laws.