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Hawai’i County Ordered to Suspend Employee Urinalysis

March 16, 2015, 12:41 PM HST
* Updated March 16, 12:42 PM
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On Monday, March 9 in federal court, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai’i and the law firm of Peiffer Rosca Wolf Abdullah Kane and Carr sued Hawai’i County on behalf of Kailua-Kona woman Rebekah Taylor-Failor.

Taylor-Failor, who is about to begin working for the County as a legal clerk, was asked, as all County employees are asked, to submit a urinalysis and a medical examination. She asked the court to allow her to begin her position without the urinalysis.

A Temporary Restraining Order was requested by the ACLU of Hawai’i and co-counsel Adam Wolf so that the County could not obtain the private information from Taylor-Failor’s bodily fluids. In the request, constitutional protections from suspicion-less searches were cited.

On Friday, March 13, the court granted Taylor-Failor her request. In the ruling, the Court stated that “the urinalysis would violate Taylor-Failor’s Fourth Amendment rights.”

“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,” Taylor-Failor said.

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Prior to the ruling in the Taylor-Failor case, the County of Hawai’i has required all of its prospective employees to submit a urine sample. The County would use the samples to reveal sensitive private medical information, including whether or not the person is diabetic or has a urinary tract infection, for example. These tests were completed despite whether or not they had anything to do with the physical duties of the position.

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In the recent lawsuit, the Court ruled against the County, saying 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.”

“We are glad the Court has recognized that the government does not need to perform invasive searches of bodily fluids to determine whether an officer 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,” ACLU of Hawai’i Legal Director Daniel Gluck said.

In 2013, the ACLU says they reached out to the Hawai’i County Department of Corporation Counsel. In their outreach, they informed the department that the County’s policies were unconstitutional. The ACLU claims that the County responded that its policies were valid.

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According to Wolf, “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.”

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