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City fails to prove urine sample arrived at lab with seal intact

July 22, 2014

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the finding that a city of Gary employee was discharged but not for just cause. The judges pointed to incomplete paperwork regarding an on-site screen custody form.

Guadalupe Franco, an electro-mechanic for the city of Gary’s Sanitary District, was injured on the job and received treatment at Comprehensive Care. While there, he received an injection for pain and provided a urine sample for drug testing. The on-site screening custody form contains instructions and files to be completed in six steps – with the sixth step completed by MedTox, where the urine sample was sent for further testing after it came back “non-negative” for cocaine metabolite.

The sample was tested at MedTox, which also received a positive result for cocaine. But MedTox did not complete the sixth step on the form which provided a field for the date and a signature from the lab; the lab did, however, generate a report that contained matching numbers as found on the custody form, listed the tests required and identified the sample as Franco’s.

The city fired Franco and he sought unemployment benefits. He disputed the drug test results, claiming he never took the drug and has never had a positive drug test during the time he worked for the city. The administrative law judge ruled in favor of Franco and the Review Board of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development affirmed 2-1.

“Given the fact that relevant fields of steps five and six were not completed, the importance of these steps in the chain of custody, and the serious consequence for an employee of a positive drug test result, we decline to infer, from the fact that test results identifying Franco were sent by MedTox to Comprehensive Care, that the seal must have been intact and that the City met its burden with respect to the chain of custody,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote in City of Gary v. Review Board of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development and Guadalupe T. Franco, 93A02-1312-EX-1016. “This does not have the effect of imposing an impossible burden on the City as it could have produced a copy of the custody form with the relevant fields completed or the testimony or an affidavit of the persons who received, checked the seal of, and tested Franco’s sample. The City bore the initial burden of establishing that Franco was terminated for just cause.”

“The deputy, the ALJ, and the Board concluded sufficient information had not been provided to sustain the City’s burden of proof or to show the chain of custody was reliable. There is sufficient evidence to support the Board’s findings and sufficient facts to support its decision, and we cannot say the Board’s conclusion is unreasonable.”

 

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