RESPONDENT: Joel Hernandez
LOCATION: Polk County Courthouse
DOCKET NO.: 02-749
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
CITATION: 540 US 44 (2003)
GRANTED: Feb 24, 2003
ARGUED: Oct 08, 2003
DECIDED: Dec 02, 2003
Ann Elizabeth Reesman - for the Equal Employment Advisory Council et al. as amici curiae urging reversal
Carter G. Phillips - argued the cause for Petitioner
Ellen D. Bryant - for the Equal Employment Advisory Council et al. as amici curiae urging reversal
Paul D. Clement - argued the cause for Petitioner, on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae
Robin S. Conrad - for the Equal Employment Advisory Council et al. as amici curiae urging reversal
Stephen A. Bokat - for the Equal Employment Advisory Council et al. as amici curiae urging reversal
Stephen G. Montoya - argued the cause for Respondent
Facts of the case
In 1991, Joel Hernandez tested positive for cocaine use in a drug test administered by his employer. As a result of the incident, he was forced to resign. In 1994, he reapplied for a job from the company. His application was rejected. Hernandez claimed that the company was discriminating against him because of his drug and alcohol addiction (though at the time he reapplied he had been sober for two years) in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The district court sided with the company, dismissing the case before it ever went to trial. A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel unanimously reversed, however, holding that Raytheon's decision not to rehire Hernandez because of an incident related to his past addiction could constitute discrimination under the act.
Does the Americans with Disabilities Act permit employers to refuse to rehire job applicants because of prior workplace rule infractions related to drug or alcohol addiction?
Media for Raytheon Company v. HernandezAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 08, 2003 in Raytheon Company v. Hernandez
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - December 02, 2003 in Raytheon Company v. Hernandez
William H. Rehnquist:
The opinion of the Court in No. 02-749, Raytheon Corporate Company versus Hernandez will be announced by Justice Thomas.
This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
The respondent Joel Hernandez was employed by petitioner for 25 years, until he showed up at work appearing to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Pursuant to company policy respondent took a drug test, which came back positive for cocaine.
Because respondent’s behavior violated petitioner’s workplace conduct rule, respondent was forced to resign.
More than two years later respondent applied to be rehired by petitioner, his application was rejected.
Respondent then filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC, complaining or claiming that he had been discriminated against in violation of the American’s with Disabilities Act ADA.
The EEOC issued a right-to-sue Letter, and respondent filed this disparate treatment action under the ADA, alleging that petitioner rejected his application because of his record of drug addiction and because petitioner regarded him as being a drug addict.
The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of petitioner.
A Ninth Circuit panel reversed, under the burden-shifting approach set forth by this Court in McDonnell Douglas v. Green.
The Ninth Circuit held that respondent Hernandez, have proffered sufficient evidence to preclude a grant of summary judgment.
The Ninth Circuit then moved to the next step of McDonnell Douglas, where the burden shifts to the defendant to provide a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for its employment action.
Here petitioner contended that it applied a neutral company policy against rehiring employees previously terminated for violating workplace conduct rules.
The Ninth Circuit rejected this explanation, reasoning that even if petitioner did apply a neutral no-rehire policy in rejecting respondent’s application, such a policy could never constitute a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for refusing to hire a person who was previously terminated for illegal drug use, because such a policy has a disparate impact on recovering drug addicts.
In an opinion filed with a Clerk today, we vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
This Court has consistently recognized a distinction between claims of discrimination based on disparate treatment and claims of discrimination based on disparate impact.
In a disparate treatment claim, the question is whether the employee's protected trait actually motivated the employer’s decision.
A neutral generally applicable no-hire policy is quintessentially legitimate nondiscriminatory reason, for refusing to rehire an employee, because there is no question of discriminatory intent.
Whether such a policy has a disparate impact is a different question that is not implicated by this case.
Accordingly, because the Ninth Circuit erroneously rejected petitioner’s legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for refusing to rehire respondent, we vacate its judgment.
Under McDonnell Douglas, the only remaining question for the Ninth Circuit is whether respondent has produced sufficient evidence of discriminatory intent, for jury to believe that petitioner’s proffered explanation was pretextual.
The opinion of the court is unanimous.
Justice Souter took no part in the decision of this case; Justice Breyer took no part in the consideration or the decision in this case.