Positive drug test from driver’s hair weave creates legal tangle

A woman whose hair weave sample returned a positive drug test after she claims she was denied the chance to submit her actual hair for a random employment drug screen may pursue her negligence claims, a federal court ruled.

While working as a truck driver for Schneider National Carriers, Inc., Javeda Cline-Cole claims she was ordered to submit to a random hair follicle drug test. Cline-Cole hit a snag, however, when a MedExpress employee administering the test refused to take a sample of her natural hair covering her scalp. The tester instead snipped a sample from her weave of unnatural hair.

Although a Schneider supervisor had informed Cline-Cole that MedExpress could use a sample of hair from her arm as an alternative, MedExpress allegedly refused to collect hairs from any part of Cline-Cole’s body other than her head. The MedExpress employee declined to let Cline-Cole remove part of her weave to more easily reach her natural hair, according to her complaint.

Cline-Cole said she urged the employee to take a sample of her natural hair and said she wouldn’t sign the acknowledgment form stating that the hair specimen had been obtained properly. But the employee allegedly refused to take another sample and stated if Cline-Cole refused to sign the form, the collection would be deemed a refused drug test.

Wanting to avoid a refused drug test, Cline-Cole signed the specimen document. The results of her weave sample came back positive for drugs, and Cline-Cole asserts she pursued a private test of her natural hair that came back negative.

Regardless, Schneider told Cline-Cole that in order to continue working with the company, she would be required to submit to mandatory drug treatment. Cline-Cole quit her job, finding the requirement unnecessary, and sued Schneider, MedExpress and the testing laboratories.

Cline-Cole argued MedExpress and the laboratories had a duty to exercise a reasonable degree of care in properly administering her test and breached that duty by being negligent in the test’s administration. She also asserted they were negligent in failing to properly preserve the submitted hair follicle for follow-up testing. Their negligence, she alleged, caused her constructive termination from Schneider as well as suffering from reputational, emotional and economic damage.

Southern District Court Judge James R. Sweeney II dismissed with prejudice Cline-Cole’s latter claims as well as her Title VII race and sex discrimination and Equal Pay Act claims, but the district court allowed Cline-Cole’s negligence claims to proceed. Sweeney wrote that a reasonable person could find that Schneider’s drug treatment referral was an ultimatum for Cline-Cole to either attend unwarranted drug treatment or be terminated.

“Attending such unnecessary drug treatment to avoid involuntary termination could have reasonably made Cline-Cole perceive her working conditions as ‘unbearable.’ Therefore, because Schneider informed Cline-Cole that she would not be able to ‘continue working’ unless she participated in drug treatment, the Court finds that she has pleaded facts sufficient for a reasonable fact finder to conclude she felt that her employment would be terminated if she did not participate in drug treatment,” the district court ruled. “As such, Cline-Cole’s alleged constructive termination damages claims survive MedExpress’s motion to dismiss.”

The motion to dismiss Cline-Cole’s case was thus granted in part and denied in part in Cline-Cole v. Schneider National Carriers, Inc. et al., 18-cv-02288.

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