By Carlyn Kolker
Feb 21 (Reuters) - A federal judge in Pittsburgh has
delivered a rebuke to the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission, throwing out a case the commission brought against
U.S. Steel Corp over random alcohol testing for new employees at
a plant in western Pennsylvania.
In a 47-page decision granting summary judgment to U.S.
Steel, U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer on Wednesday shot
down an attempt by the commission to curb the random alcohol
tests, saying they were necessary for the job.
Employees typically operate heavy machinery and face
hazardous conditions such as heights and high temperatures, the
decision said. The random testing program is part of the
company's contract with the steelworkers' union, which
represents the plant's employees.
The case originated with Abigail DeSimone, who was dismissed
by U.S. Steel in February 2008 after she failed a breath alcohol
test shortly after she began employment at the plant in
Clairton, Pennsylvania. DeSimone said the test registered a
false positive because she has diabetes. She sent in a negative
blood alcohol test by her physician, but the company still
dismissed her, according to the EEOC.
In September 2010 the EEOC sued U.S. Steel, alleging that
the test violated the federal Americans With Disabilities Act,
which requires that a company have a reasonable basis to conduct
a medical test, and arguing that the practice affects new
employees throughout the company.
DeSimone settled privately with U.S. Steel in March 2012,
and the EEOC continued to pursue its claims against the
In Wednesday's ruling, Fischer sided with U.S. Steel's
argument that the random testing program is "job-related" and
consistent with "business necessity," and therefore does not
violate the ADA.
The commission did not respond to a message left on its
media line and Eric Dreiband, a lawyer at Jones Day representing
the company, did not return a call seeking comment.
Manesh Rath, an attorney at Keller and Heckman in Washington
who represents companies in employment litigation, said the
EEOC's case was an aggressive display of two central strategic
aims of the commission: trying to use individual cases to spur
companywide changes and addressing emerging areas of employment
"I think they were trying to push the envelope in terms of
what constitutes prohibited medical testing under the ADA,"
Rath said. "Mercifully, the judge in the case ruled that alcohol
testing is permissible if imposed with the intention of
furthering worker safety."
The case is Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v.
United States Steel Corporation et al., U.S. District Court,
Western District of Pennsylvania, No. 10-1824.
For the EEOC: Ronald Phillips, Deborah Kane and Melanie
Peterson of the commission.
For U.S. Steel: Eric Dreiband and Amy Dias of Jones Day and
Maria Cristina Sharp of U.S. Steel.
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