By Roberto Ceniceros
Sep. 12, 2012
An employee fired after testing positive for cocaine use in a workplace injury investigation is entitled to back pay and attorney fees because her carpal tunnel injury was not an accident, the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled.
The decision in Amanda Skipton v. S & J Tube Inc. upholds a 2011 district court finding that S&J failed to follow Iowa law permitting an employer to conduct a drug test when investigating workplace accidents that lead to injuries.
The district court had also found that the employer also failed to follow its own policy, which provided that the employer could conduct a drug test of an employee involved in a workplace “accident” resulting in medical treatment.
Skipton’s job as an inter-channel gluing operator required repetitive use of her hands, wrists and arms, the appellate court’s opinion shows. That led to a diagnosis of carpal tunnel after she first reported experiencing pain in 2006.
She received treatment but was diagnosed with “persistent symptoms of left carpal tunnel syndrome” in 2007, at which time she learned she had to take a drug test under her employer’s recently enacted drug policy.
The test results led to her termination, and in 2008 she sued for wrongful termination and violation of Iowa’s law on workplace drug tests, arguing that the employer improperly applied its drug policy.
After the district court found that S & J failed to follow Iowa law permitting an employer to conduct a drug test “in investigating accidents in the workplace in which the accident resulted in an injury to a person,” as well as its own drug policy, the court calculated Skipton was entitled to nearly $23,000 in back pay and $14,000 in attorney fees and costs.
The employer appealed and among other arguments said that Skipton’s cumulative trauma injury could be characterized as an accidental injury.
But among other findings the appeals ruled that “in applying its drug testing policy, the employer ignored the statutory requirement that there be an accident.”
The appeals court upheld the back pay and attorney fee awards and added another $3,000 award for appellate attorney fees.
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