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PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Cancer Patient Terminated

By The Long Island Railroad

Drew Darren was a twenty-four year veteran of the Long Island Rail Road (the LIRR). On February 14, 2022, he began an extended medical leave for the purpose of obtaining cancer treatment. With his cancer finally in remission, he initiated the reinstatement process. As a condition for returning him to work, the LIRR demanded that Mr. Drew submit to a return-to-duty urine test, even though it was not required.

The LIRR’s medical department collected a urine specimen on June 7, 2022, and he returned to work the next day. He continued working until June 13, 2022. Upon receipt of a drug test that was positive for marijuana metabolites, the LIRR terminated him. 

However, this test was not required under Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations because Mr. Drew did not occupy a safety sensitive position as defined by that agency. In fact, his job was to fix air conditioning units.  Furthermore, on March 31, 2021, New York State enacted the Marijuana Regulations and Taxation Act (MRTA) that legalized the adult-use of cannabis. The MRTA prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee in any manner based on cannabis use outside of work hours and off the employer’s premises. The MRTA recognizes exceptions based on at-work impairment and drug testing required by federal or state law. 

“This case is at once heart-rending and ridiculous” 

“Heart-rending because this is a man who was served the LIRR well for 24 years and is now being deprived of income and medical. Ridiculous, because he did nothing wrong. He stands accused of legal drug use during a medical leave for cancer treatment – nothing more," said Ricardo Sanchez, Local 589 General Chairman who is representing Mr. Drew. 

Under persistent questioning by Mr. Sanchez during a preliminary hearing, the LIRR conceded that it had no evidence that Mr. Drew had ever come to work impaired. They further conceded that Mr. Drew, as a repair of air conditioning units, was not subject to federally mandated drug testing. 

“What this comes down to,” Mr. Sanchez said, “is the Company’s brazen assertion that its policy trumps both the collective bargaining agreement and New York State law. The Union is confident we will ultimately win this case but, in the meantime, Mr. Drew and his family are suffering greatly.” 

Attorney Lee Seham has handled similar cases in the airline industry, and concurred that the IBEW should ultimately prevail. Seham states: 

“The United States Supreme Court has held that, when a government entity such as the LIRR takes a man’s urine, it constitutes a Fourth Amendment search or seizure. In my view, the LIRR had no rational basis for demanding Mr. Drew’s urine after an extended leave of absence for cancer treatment, particularly in a state where he had a protected right to use cannabis. The LIRR is not above the law.” 

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Local 589, is in the process of scheduling the case for presentation before a neutral arbitrator in early 2024. 

One has to question why LIRR management forced Mr. Drew to submit to a urine test in the first place. Granted an employee who has faced cancer is an expensive employee, but what happened to humanity? What happened to legality? It is illegal to discriminate against an employee with cancer. This case will be interesting to follow, and I hope that big corporations simply start doing the right thing. I pray that Mr. Drew stays in remission, stays strong and the LIRR finds the strength to place human life before the bottom line. 

Enjoy The Journey

Dr. Karlene Petitt
A350, B777, A330, B747-400, B747-200, B767, B757, B737, B727