Random Drug Testing of Florida State Workers Unconstitutional, Judge Rules

by Clyde Weiss  |  April 27, 2012

Florida Gov. Rick Scott's executive order requiring random drug testing for some 85,000 state workers violates the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures, U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro in Miami ruled on Thursday.

“With her order today, Judge Ungaro has protected the privacy and personal dignity of tens of thousands of Florida’s best and brightest – our state workforce,” said Alma Gonzalez, Special Counsel of AFSCME Council 79, which brought the suit with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. “This was a case of using hard working state employees to score political points.”

In her ruling, Judge Ungaro wrote: “The fundamental flaw of the [executive order] is that it infringes privacy interests in pursuit of a public interest, which…is insubstantial and largely speculative.”

Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said the ruling means “the Governor can’t order the state to search people’s bodily fluids for no reason – the Constitution prohibits that sort of government invasion. And the governor can’t demand that people surrender their constitutional rights for the privilege of working for the state or receiving some other government benefit.”

The ruling did not, however, address the issue of requiring drug testing for applicants for state employment. It does apply to current employees who are promoted or changing jobs – a process during which they are considered the same as new applicants, according to the ACLU of Florida.

AFSCME and the ACLU initially sued the governor in May 2011, challenging the constitutionality of his executive order allowing drug testing of state workers. The governor backed off several weeks later and suspended implementation of his order in all agencies but the Department of Corrections.

While Judge Ungaro’s ruling invalidates that executive order, it did not specifically address a law approved this March that allows state agencies to conduct random drug testing of up to 10 percent of their workforce every three months. That law will not become effective until July 1. The ACLU of Florida is examining ways to protect the rights of employees affected by the new law, including the possibility of a legal challenge.

This is the third time that Florida laws involving random drug testing have been struck down. In 2011, a federal court in Orlando blocked implementation of a law requiring mandatory drug testing for applicants for temporary cash assistance. In 2004, a similar drug testing measure for employees at the Department of Juvenile Justice was struck down.

Council 79 will continue to take the lead fighting for state workers’ rights, including fighting privatization and defending public service workers’ unions.

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