ACLU Settles Pawtucket Lawsuit Over Illegal Drug Testing

September 23, 2010 12:00 am

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The Rhode Island ACLU today announced the favorable settlement of a suit it filed against the City of Pawtucket in July, charging city officials with violating a state law that restricts random drug testing in the workplace.

The lawsuit, filed in R.I. Superior Court by ACLU volunteer attorney Richard A. Sinapi, was on behalf of Romana Ramos, a veteran 17-year city employee who works as a police matron and court interpreter. In April, she was advised by city employees that she had to immediately submit to a random urine drug screen test or else face a 30 day suspension. Faced with that choice, Ramos agreed to take a urine test as well as a breathalyzer test, both of which tested negative.

Rhode Island law allows drug testing in the workplace, but in recognition of its invasiveness, intrusion on basic privacy rights and potential inaccuracy, it allows testing of employees only when there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is impaired on the job, and sets procedures for how such tests can be conducted. Random drug testing is prohibited.

In settling the case, the City has agreed to pay $5,000 in attorney’s fees and has also provided Ramos a letter of apology for requiring her to take the test. In addition, the City has agreed to adopt a drug testing policy that complies with the state statute and to take “reasonable action” to ensure that supervisory personnel are familiar with the statute’s various restrictions and safeguards.

Ramos said today: “Since I was never interested in turning this into a matter of money, I am pleased to receive an apology from the City that vindicates my position and my rights. This lawsuit has accomplished what I set out to do when I first decided to pursue the case: it ensures that no other employee will have to submit to this offensive practice.” ACLU attorney Sinapi added: “This settlement should send a message to other employers that there is no longer any excuse for being unfamiliar with the provisions of Rhode Island’s drug testing law. Should any further violations take place, the ACLU will be prepared to seek all appropriate remedies available in the law, including punitive damages.”

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