Press Release


The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                  CONTACT:  Claire Gonzales Wed., June 28, 1995                              Reginald Welch                                                  (202) 663-4900                                                  TDD  (202) 663-4494 


WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today sued Exxon Corporation for applying a nationwide, blanket policy of excluding all employees with a record of past substance abuse from certain jobs in violation of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Dallas.

The suit was brought after EEOC's conciliation attempts failed to resolve the disputed demotions of two employees from their positions as aircraft flight engineers, a "designated" safety position, to mechanic, a "nondesignated" position.

EEOC asserts that Exxon's policy of excluding all past substance abusers from "designated" jobs violates the ADA's standard for assessing whether a qualified applicant or employee poses a "direct threat" to himself/herself. The ADA defines "direct threat" as a significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation. In making a determination of whether an individual poses a direct threat, an employer must assess that person's current ability to safely perform the essential functions of his or her job. An employer may consider an individual's record of past substance abuse, however, like all direct-threat determinations, it must be done through an individualized assessment based on medical analysis or other objective factual evidence. The determination cannot be based on subjective perceptions, irrational fears, patronizing attitudes, or stereotypes.

Before he was demoted, Salvatore Filippone had successfully performed his engineering duties for over 10 years. More than 25 years ago, at age 18, Filippone had undergone treatment for drug abuse. Exxon knew about his past drug problem when it hired him. In 1989, when the petroleum refining company instituted its substance abuse policy, it excepted Filippone. Then in 1994, Exxon decided to apply its policy without exceptions.

The other employee, Glenn Hale, had attended an outpatient treatment program for alcoholism in 1985. He was hired by Exxon in 1988 and performed his duties successfully. Like Filippone, Hale was excluded from the 1989 policy, until last year.

While lauding the efforts of employers to ensure workplace safety, EEOC Chairman Gilbert F. Casellas said, "This case is a clear example of why the ADA mandates case-by-case assessments of whether individuals can safely perform their jobs. For these men, there is clearly no evidence of their posing a direct threat to themselves or others. Exxon's decision appears to have been based on irrational fears or stereotypes about individuals with a record of past substance abuse."

EEOC notes, however, that under the ADA employers are not prohibited from taking steps to eliminate the illegal use of drugs and alcohol from the workplace, including conducting drug tests. Employers may also hold employees who illegally use drugs and alcoholics to the same conduct and performance standards as other workers. This includes disciplining or firing employees on the basis of such drug use or because the use of alcohol renders employees unable to adhere to their employer's conduct and performance standards.

In addition to enforcing Title I of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in the private sector and state and local governments, EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; prohibitions against discrimination affecting individuals with disabilities in the federal government; and sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

This page was last modified on January 15, 1997.