Federal Court Orders Hawaii County To Suspend Urinalysis for County Employee

Federal judge rules that County policy violates prospective employee’s constitutional rights

Read the Court’s full order here.

Honolulu – The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai‘i and the law firm of Peiffer Rosca Wolf Abdullah Kane & Carr sued Hawai‘i County in federal court on Monday, March 9 on behalf of Rebekah Taylor-Failor, a Kailua-Kona woman who is about to begin working for the County.  After giving her a conditional job offer, the County required her, as it requires all its prospective employees, to submit to a urinalysis and an invasive medical examination.  She asked the Court to allow her to start working (as a Legal Clerk II – a typical desk job) without submitting to a urinalysis; on Friday, March 13, the Court granted that request, ruling that “the urinalysis would violate Taylor-Failor’s Fourth Amendment rights[.]”

Until now, the County of Hawai‘i required its prospective employees to submit a urine sample, which the County would subject to analysis that could reveal sensitive private medical information – such as whether an individual is diabetic or has a urinary tract infection – regardless of the physical duties the applicant would perform on the job.  The ACLU of Hawai‘i and co-counsel Adam Wolf asked the Court for a Temporary Restraining Order to prevent the County from obtaining this private information from Ms. Taylor-Failor’s bodily fluids, citing constitutional protections from suspicionless searches.

In an attempt to avoid litigation, the ACLU of Hawaii reached out to the Hawaii County Department of Corporation Counsel in 2013, explaining that the County’s policies and procedures were unconstitutional; the County responded – incorrectly – that its policies were valid.  But siding against the County, the Court ruled in its order that “the County has proffered no explanation as to why it is entitled to search Taylor-Failor’s urine before she may begin employment in her light duty, clerical, non-safety-sensitive position….  Employment requirements cannot stand where they violate rights of a constitutional dimension.”

Mr. Wolf said, “The Constitution protects government employees from such invasive medical examinations.  The County of Hawai‘i has no need to demand that its clerks reveal whether they have a urinary tract infection or diabetes.  Today’s ruling is a historic step toward reforming pre-employment medical tests so that they comply with the constitution.”

Rebekah Taylor-Failor said, “I’m eager to start working for the County, and I’m glad that the Court is allowing me to do so without having to sacrifice my constitutional rights.”

ACLU of Hawai‘i Legal Director Daniel Gluck said, “We are glad the Court has recognized that the government does not need to perform invasive searches of bodily fluids to determine whether an office worker can perform her job.  Medical data is some of our most privately held information, and it is critical that we protect it from government overreach.”