Ohio Supreme Court issues ruling against woman suing former employer over privacy issues during drug tests; lawmakers consider changes to state law to better protect employees

Published: Aug. 28, 2020 at 5:58 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A decision has been made in a case questioning your privacy rights during a drug screening.

19 News first told you about the ongoing lawsuit in a special report earlier this summer.

The Ohio Supreme Court just ruled this week that employers can have someone watch as employees give a urine sample.

The ruling is against Donna Lundsford, who sparked a 19 News investigation of your privacy rights at work.

“I was pretty upset, pretty horrified,” she said. “They have blatantly just said ’If you work in Ohio, we pretty much don’t care about you.’”

We first told you in June about Donna Lundsford’s lawsuit against her former employer.

“There’s nothing more private than your private parts,” she said at the time

After working for the Sterilite company in Stark County for more than 20 years, Lundsford says managers began forcing employees to take drug tests under the direct observation method.

Direct observation means exactly what it sounds like. To make sure there’s no cheating, the technician administering a drug test watches an employee’s genitals as he or she gives a urine sample.

Lundford’s attorney, David Worhatch, said the ruling has big implications for all employees in the state.

“The court has ruled that that was an acceptable method by Sterilite,” he said. “In other words, you have to check your dignity at the door.”

“It could happen to anyone at any time if you are an employee in Ohio,” Lundsford added.

After a trial judge initially ruled against Lundsford, a unanimous decision by three appellate court judges sent the case to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Worhatch says it means something that Lundsford lost there by a vote of 4-3.

“Yes. I believe it says six of the 11 judicial officers that looked at this case ruled in my clients favor,” he said.

“Six judges feel the same way I feel,” Lundsford said.

Plus, Lundsford says she received a lot of feedback after our first interview.

“The majority was on my side, saying that’s absolutely disgusting. That’s exactly how I feel. I was totally appalled by it then. I still am,” she said.

So now what?

Lundsford intends to file a motion for reconsideration. She’s started a GoFundMe page to help cover the cost of doing so.

But Worhatch says there could be another way to protect Ohioans.

“The legislature could see this decision, realize that six out of 11 judges saw it the other way, and fix it! Because you can pass laws that prohibit this kind of conduct,” he said.

Lundsford said, “I lost the battle, don’t mean I lost the war. I mean we don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

19 News reached out to several lawmakers Friday to see whether any would consider proposing legislation because of Lundsford’s case.

So far, at least three lawmakers have responded, saying they would consider taking action to change the state law.

Senator Nickie Antonio sent us the following statement:

“I agree with the dissenting opinion from our Supreme Court members. I am appalled by this kind of invasive drug testing procedure that really violates a person’s bodily privacy, and at the same time, seems to humiliate employees and could create a hostile work environment. At the very least, if a company is using these types of methods, employees need to be informed before the test is administered.

Now that this has come to my attention, I will be researching further into this form of employee drug testing and may sponsor legislation banning it.”

State Representative Bride Rose Sweeney sent us the following statement:

“The Ohio Supreme Court’s 4-3 ruling failed to set a bare minimum standard for working people when it comes to privacy.

Ohioans should be respected and assured of the dignity of their work. Yet like so many of our state’s institutions plagued by one-party rule, the Court came up short.

I would be very interested in reviewing and potentially supporting legislation that might come forward from this decision so that we can put workers first.”

And, in an email, State Representative Juanita Brent said:

“The state of Ohio needs to have legislation that will allow employers to test employees for drugs, with the employees dignity in tact.  Getting undress in front of a stranger can cause unnecessary trauma to an employee. One idea I have that needs to be vetted would include, the employee removing all clothes and only wearing a medical gown while taking the drug test (urinating). This process will allow private urination and reduce the possibility of fake or another non-employee urine to be used. If Ohio wants our job force to increase than all employees must be able to work with dignity and not in fear of losing their job.”

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