Random Drug Testing For Corrections Employees Upheld

Roberick Washington was employed as a lieutenant at the Wyandotte County Juvenile Detention Center in Kansas City, Kansas. After a random drug test, he was fired for testing positive for cocaine. Washington filed a civil rights action against the County and several of his co-workers, alleging that the drug test was an illegal search that violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as breached his employment contract.

The key question for the federal Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals was whether random drug testing of corrections employees violated the search and seizure and probable cause requirements of the Fourth Amendment. The Court found no such violation, and upheld Washington’s termination.

The Court noted that “ordinarily, a search must be based on individualized suspicion of wrongdoing in order to meet the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness requirement. But when the government asserts a ‘special need’ beyond ordinary crime detection, we have found suspicionless drug testing reasonable if the government’s interests outweigh the individual’s privacy interests.

“In evaluating whether the government has demonstrated a legitimate special need, we examine (1) whether the testing program was adopted in response to a documented drug abuse problem or whether drug abuse among the target group would pose a serious danger to the public; and (2) whether the testing scheme would effectively detect and deter drug use.

“In the absence of a documented drug problem among employees, courts have nevertheless concluded the government’s concerns are real if drug use among the tested individuals would threaten workplace or public safety. Further, courts have characterized random, rather than scheduled, drug tests as an effective method of detecting and deterring drug use.

“Here, the County argues it administers random drug tests to juvenile lieutenants to ensure the safety and welfare of the children housed in the Juvenile Detention Center. We find this special need is legitimate. The County serves as guardian to juveniles residing at the Juvenile Detention Center and has a significant interest in ensuring the safety of those under its full-time care – many of whom may have struggled with substance abuse, including use of illegal drugs. By preventing drug use among its employees who have interaction with and access to residents, the County ensures that interaction with the youth are handled by non-impaired individuals, that drugs have a lower likelihood of finding their way into the facility, and that juvenile lieutenants serve as role models for the youth.

“Having found a legitimate special need for the random drug testing policy, we balance Washington’s privacy interests against the County’s interests in safety and welfare to determine whether testing Washington was reasonable in these circumstances. As a correctional employee, Washington’s expectation of privacy was diminished. Moreover, the drug test was minimally invasive: Washington provided the urine sample in a restroom with the door closed, without a monitor.

“Next, we consider whether the government has asserted an interest important enough to justify the particular search at hand, in light of other factors that show the search to be relatively intrusive upon a genuine expectation of privacy. Here, the County has identified two interests important enough to justify randomly testing Washington. The first involves the unique situation of working with juveniles in an educational setting. When an employee has an in loco parentis custodial and educational relationship with minors – especially at-risk minors – that employee’s illegal drug use presents a risk of harm to the minors. The County’s second interest involves the situation of working in a correctional facility. If an employee has law enforcement duties, access to and direct contact with inmates, or may be called on to secure a correctional facility, that employee’s illegal drug use presents a significant potential threat to the inmates and the security of the facility.

“Because the County’s interests outweigh Washington’s privacy interests, Washington has not proven a constitutional violation.”

Washington v. Unified Government of Wyandotte County, Kansas, 2017 WL 474322 (10th Cir. 2017).