Ninth Circuit Holds Applicant Drug Testing Policy Violates Fourth Amendment

The City of Woodburn, Oregon, has an applicant drug testing policy. All prospective applicants must be screened for illegal drugs prior to hire.

As a government employer, Woodburn is bound to follow the U.S. Constitution. Drug testing is a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. To avoid securing a warrant to conduct the search, the City must demonstrate a sufficient reason to conduct the drug testing without one.

Lanier applied for a job as a part-time worker in the city's library. She refused the drug test and was not hired. She claimed that requiring her to take a drug test as an applicant violated her rights. The Ninth Circuit agreed. The court held that the city's articulated reasons - general societal problems with drug abuse, protecting children in the library, and the adverse effect drug use has on work performance were sufficiently special. Not so, said the court of appeals. Rather, to conduct applicant drug testing, the City would have to demonstrate that these factors were specific problems in the City's workforce, and involving the particular job for which Lanier applied.

Unless the U.S. Supreme Court reverses this decision, many government drug testing programs for applicants will be invalid. The case also may have ripple effects for private employers. In California, for example, applicant drug testing by private employers is generally lawful. The courts have relied on constitutional jurisprudence in reaching that decision. So, stay tuned.
The case is Lanier v. City of Woodburn. The opinion is here.