In certain circumstances a company or business may have a policy that seems
to be neutral, but upon closer look may in fact be discriminatory. This
may be because the policy or practice has a “disparate impact”
that negatively affects a particular race. In a recent case,
Jones v. City of Boston, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit evaluated the Boston
Police Department’s utilization of hair tests to detect illegal
drug use and determined that such tests unlawfully discriminated against
If you have questions about a policy that you think may be discriminatory,
or if you believe you have been subject to any work place discrimination,
it’s a good idea to consult with an experienced
Atlanta race discrimination attorney right away.
In this instance, the Boston Police Department subjected cadets and officers
to annual drug tests using samples of their hair. The tests were used
to determine the presence of chemicals, which indicated exposure to cocaine,
marijuana, opiates, PCP and amphetamines. Employees who tested positive
were fired unless they agreed to go through drug rehabilitation and accept
an unpaid suspension while in treatment. The lawsuit was brought by 9
former officers and cadets who tested positive for cocaine.
The officers and cadets presented evidence that between 1999 and 2006 black
officers and cadets tested positive for cocaine approximately 1.3% of
the time while whites tested positive under 0.3%. Even though the number
of people affected was low, the difference was statistically significant.
Further, the officers and cadets provided evidence that hair tests are
“relatively unreliable” and that black individuals tend to
have higher levels of melanin in their hair, causing cocaine and other
chemicals to bind to their hair at a higher rate.
The appeals court found that such difference could be enough to show a
discriminatory disparate impact. In making its determination, the appeals
court rejected arguments that the statistical differences were too small
to show such disparate impact, because the racial differential wasn’t
“practically significant.” The court explained instead that
it’s up to the employer to justify the challenged practice by business
necessity, explaining, “If a practice fails to serve a sufficient
business need, why retain it merely because the number of people harmed
Further, the appeals court noted that the statistically significant disparity
is significant, stating “it can’t be disregarded as having no
practical impact …it’s of great practical impact to the people
who got fired.”
For more information, or if you believe that you have suffered any form
of employment discrimination, please contact the experienced and dedicated
Atlanta employee’s rights attorneys at The Buckley Law Firm, LLP for an immediate consultation.