SEATTLE – The state Court of Appeals has struck down Seattle’s employee drug testing policy, saying it violates the right to privacy.
The city required urine tests for all prospective employees for jobs that involved public safety, working with dangerous substances and operating motor vehicles or heavy equipment.
That policy was challenged in a lawsuit filed in 1997 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.
The suit did not seek to end drug tests for public safety employees, such as police officers, firefighters or bus drivers.
In the ruling released Monday, Appeals Court Judge Anne Ellington sided with the ALCU, overturning a Jan. 26, 1999, decision by the King County Superior Court judge that upheld the policy.
In her opinion, Ellington praised the city for striving for a drug-free work place, but said the city can only test applicants who will genuinely be involved in public safety.
“We have a constitutional right to privacy that prevents the government from searching our bodies and homes unless they have a reasonable basis to believe that we’ve doing something wrong,” said Mike Kipling, an attorney representing the ACLU.
Ruth LaRocque, spokeswoman for City Attorney Mark Sidran, said her office would have no comment until it has reviewed the ruling.
The city has said the drug tests demonstrated its zero-tolerance stance toward drugs, and helped reduce sick time and accidents.
Under the policy originally adopted by the City Council in July 1996, all prospective employees had to take a drug test. The council revised its policy in 1997, although applicants for jobs that involved money or work with minors were required to take drug tests until 1998.
The ACLU represented a coalition of local taxpayers including former Seattle Mayor Charles Royer, and Oscar Eason, president of the Seattle chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“We’re very pleased with this decision,” said Doug Honig, spokesman with the ACLU of Washington. “It’s a precedent-setting case for the rest of the state.”
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