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New York commercial litigator Yulia Vangorodska, Esq - logo

More People Are Turning To Litigation To Resolve False-Positive Drug Tests

Eat a bagel, lose your job. Eat a bagel and see your child taken from you. These, and more incidents of overreaction have triggered a growing number of lawsuits. Here’s what happened and what you can do if you are falsely confronted with a false-positive drug screen.

George Tidd was a 23-year-old sailor assigned to the USS Kennedy in 1982. The aircraft carrier was homeported in Norfolk, Virginia and dozens of fast foot joints lined Hampton Boulevard just outside the Main Gate.

Tidd, an Intelligence Specialist with a fairly high security clearance, went to lunch at “Navy Bagels,” picked up a couple of bagels with poppy seeds and a Coke. He enjoyed his brief lunch break while walking back to the ship.

In a few hours, Tidd would be subjected to a random drug test and he would turn up positive for opium.

Tidd lost his clearance, was demoted to the deck force and killed himself three days later.

The Naval Investigators refused to believe Tidd’s claim that he didn’t do drugs.

There was enough opium in the poppy seed bagel to trigger a positive on the urine screen.

Mother and Newborn Separated For Five Days

Elizabeth Eden ate a poppy seed bagel the morning she gave birth to her daughter. Eden was in labor and her doctor told her she had tested positive for opiates.

Eden demanded she be rested and her newborn daughter was forced to stay in the hospital, without her mother, for five days.

Eden’s caseworker closed the case when she realized it was a legitimate case of  a false positive.

Eleazar Paz

Eleazar Paz, a New York City jail guard, was suspended after failing a random urine test. The drug screen showed indicated 522 nanograms per milliliter of morphine and 358 nanograms per milliliter of codeine. According to court records, Paz had eggs, a poppy seed bagel and coffee for breakfast that morning.

Paz was suspended and went to trial in April 2018. An expert toxicologist testified on Paz’s behalf and said a person who abused morphine and codeine would have “urine values in the thousands.”

The expert, William Sawyer, was surprised the New York City Department of Corrections was still using the outdated cutoff of 300 nanogram per milliliter.

Judge John B. Spooner acknowledged the most “likely source of the positive test results was the ingestion of poppy seeds” and suggested  the disciplinary proceedings against Paz be dismissed. The DOC ignored the recommendation and fired Paz regardless.

DOC officials refused to comment on Paz’s firing and told the New York Post, “There is no evidence a few poppy seeds can make a person fail a drug test.”

What’s The Law

Laws on drug testing vary by state. Drug testing has been challenged and often ruled unconstitutional. The variances in drug testing laws can be significant and each state’s law can be found here.

New York prohibits employers from rejecting a job applicant because they tested positive.

“Since use of prescription drugs for treatment, testing positive for legally used medications cannot be used against an applicant,” said Yulia Vangorodska.

How to File a Lawsuit in New York

If you feel you’ve been the victim of a false-positive drug screen and have been affected, you can file a lawsuit.

First, determine a monetary value of your case. If you believe it is under $25,000, your case can be filed in Civil Court. Cases valued over $25,000 will be heard by one of the five Supreme Courts in New York City. Depending on specifics, you may be able to file in federal court.

Hiring a lawyer is not optional. It is mandatory. Even a seemingly insignificant item can change the entire course of your case. If your suit is against a business, you must be represented by a lawyer.

The final step before appearing before a judge is to file your case, paying the filing fee and serving the defendant.

The Takeaway

Filing a lawsuit in America can be a long and tortuous process. It’s not easy even with the simplest of cases and an attorney is a must-have.

Until laws are brought in line with laboratory advances in drug testing, there will continue to be lawsuits as people fight for their rights

© 2020 Yulia Vangorodska, all rights reserved

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