Employment-Fifth Circuit Upholds Dismissal of ADA and FMLA Claims

In Shirley v. Precision Castparts Corp., No. 12-20544 (5th Cir. 2013), the plaintiff, Bryan Shirley (“Shirley”), was appealing the district court’s summary judgment that dismissed his claims against the defendants under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).

In this case, for twelve years, Shirley worked for Wyman-Gordon Forgings, L.P. (“W-G”) as an operator of the largest extrusion presses in the world. However, Shirley had an addiction to Vicodin, which he was taking to manage the pain from various work-related injuries. Under W-G’s drug-free workplace policy, any employee who develops a problem with drugs or alcohol may confidentially inform the company’s human resources (“HR”) manager to pursue treatment. Under that policy, however, an employee “who rejects treatment or who leaves a treatment program prior to being properly discharged will be terminated.” W-G, through its HR department, approved Shirley’s leave so he could enter a treatment facility, which he did twice. However, he did not complete the treatment program at the facility either time. W-G then fired Shirley for twice failing to complete the treatment program. This suit ensued, with Shirley claiming the termination violated the ADA and FMLA.

In analyzing the case, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) said, as to the ADA claim, that Section 12114(a) of the ADA expressly excludes from the class of “qualified individuals”, that is, those individuals protected under the ADA, any employee “who is currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs” at the time that the employer makes an employment decision “on the basis of such use.” The ADA contains a safe harbor provision in Section 12114(b), which makes the drug-use exclusion inapplicable to an otherwise qualified individual who completes a supervised drug rehabilitation program and is no longer using the illegal drug. The Court concluded that the exclusion from ADA protection in Section 12114(a) applies to Shirley, while the exception to the exclusion in Section 12114(b) does not. Thus, the Court ruled that the ADA claim must be dismissed.

As to the FMLA claim, the Court ruled that, since he had been terminated for failure to meet the employer’s drug free policy, his employment rights had been extinguished without regard to whether or not he was on, or attempting to obtain, FMLA leave, and therefore Shirley is not protected under the FMLA. Thus, the Court ruled that the FMLA claim must be dismissed. Due to the dismissal of both the ADA and FMLA claims, the Court upheld the district court’s summary judgment against Shirley.