March 27 saw the Iowa Supreme Court grant further review in not one but two important drug-testing cases. Besides deciding to hear Dix v. Casey’s General Stores, Inc. (covered here), the Court also granted review in Woods v. Charles Gabus Ford, Inc. (19-0002). Charles Gabus challenges the Court of Appeals’ ruling that it failed to substantially comply with the drug-testing statute’s post-test notice requirement.
Woods was fired after he failed a drug test. Iowa’s drug-testing statute requires an employer like Charles Gabus to send the employee notice of the positive test along with specified contents, including the employee’s right to seek a confirmatory drug test. Woods undisputedly received the notice. Even so, he sued, asserting that the notice failed to recite the cost of the confirmatory drug test, as required under the statute.
Charles Gabus conceded that its notice didn’t feature that cost. Instead, Charles Gabus argued it didn’t violate the statute because its notice “substantially complied” with the notice provision. The Supreme Court has held that substantial compliance with the notice provision will do “if the employer’s actions falling ‘short of strict compliance . . . nonetheless accomplish the important objective of providing notice to the employee of the positive test result and a meaningful opportunity to consider whether to undertake a confirmatory test.’”
The Iowa Court of Appeals agreed with Woods, reversing the District Court. The lower court had reasoned that the notice said that if the confirmatory test were negative for drugs, Woods would be reimbursed for its cost, making the cost zero and thus essentially immaterial to the post-test notice. Indeed, Woods testified merely that he “might” have gotten the confirmatory test had he known its cost. Yet the Court of Appeals rejected this analysis, concluding that Woods could not make an informed decision without the test’s cost. It thus found that Woods was deprived of a meaningful opportunity to consider whether to take the confirmatory test. So no substantial compliance.
Charles Gabus doesn’t challenge the substantial-compliance standard, only its application in the case. The notice Charles Gabus sent met the notice provision’s other requirements; it notified Woods of the positive test and his right to seek a confirmatory test. It also notified Woods that he’d be reimbursed for the confirmatory test’s cost if it returned negative. It is in this context that the Supreme Court will determine with the notice, despite featuring the cost, substantially complied with the drug-testing statute.
We’ll follow up when the Court issues its opinion.