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Judge: Some, not all, drug tests okay for mental health workers



Jefferson City, MO – A federal judge has upheld random drug testing for some Missouri Department of Mental Health employees, but the ruling also says others who challenged the policy should be exempt.

The lawsuit had sought to strike down the random testing policy as an unconstitutional search.

U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey refused to issue such a sweeping decision, instead only ruling that the state had shown a special need for the random drug testing at its habilitation centers for those with mental and developmental disabilities.

But she also issued a permanent injunction against enforcing the policy against the three workers who sued, who worked at other locations.

Attorney Dan Viets, who filed the lawsuit, said he believed the injunction also would apply to other department employees who, like the plaintiffs, did not work at habilitation centers.

"The effect is it will stop the random drug testing for anyone in a similar situation as the plaintiffs in this case," said Viets, a Columbia attorney for the Missouri chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws.

"If it were not so, every employee would have to sue to establish his or her constitutional rights, and that's clearly not the case."

Department spokesman Bob Bax said the ruling clearly applies to the three people who sued, but said the general drug testing policy was upheld. Beyond that, "we're reviewing the decision to determine what impact it will have on our policy and its application," he said.

"The drug policy is something that we feel is important," Bax added, "because we want to do everything we can to ensure the safety of our clients."

Random drug tests are performed on a sample of 10% of employees each year from each facility and section within the department. The Mental Health Department employs more than 9,000 people. Of those, about 3,200 work at habilitation centers.

The judge said the reasoning for testing in habilitation centers was, given that employees work in a closed environment with patients, making it difficult for administrators to supervise them on a regular basis.


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