Teacher suing Yakima School District over drug testing requirement

YAKIMA, WA - As many of us know, taking a drug test before employment is pretty commonplace. But when it comes to our kids' teachers, should they be tested?

According to the Yakima School District, the answer is yes. One teacher who had a contract in hand refused to take the test, and was fired. Today she filed a lawsuit against the Yakima School District.

Reporter Rex Carlin has been investigating this story to find out why she filed the suit, and learned that her lawyer says this is all about clearing her name.

In its simplest form, this is a wrongful termination lawsuit...but it's a little trickier than that.

The teacher at the center of it all, 58-year-old Elizabeth Andrews, was hired this past July to be an English teacher at Davis High School, but was fired about six weeks later for what the district claims was breach of contract.

Among other arguments Andrews and her lawyer, Andrew Magee, make in the lawsuit, they claim that nowhere in her hiring process was she notified of her obligation to take a drug test. Even if she was notified, it would be illegal for the district to conduct pre-employment testing on a teacher.

"The state is saying to you: "If you want the opportunity to be employees by us, you have to give up a constitutional right'," said Magee.

Magee is referring to Article 1 Section 7 of the State of Washington Constitution that states: "No person shall be disturbed in his private affairs without authority of the law".

Magee is basing Andrews' case off a case from the fall of 2000 - Robinson vs. City of Seattle - which ruled that only employees that genuinely impact public safety can be drug tested. That ruling included police officers, firefighters, and other public employees who carry a firearm, and the ruling only applied to people who work in the public sector, not private companies.

"It lays out clearly in the opinion that the principle of our matter - the pre-employment drug screening, the suspicion-less drug screening, and the principle that it's your constitutional right to be free from those - applies exclusively to jobs in the public sector," Magee said.

Rex Carlin contacted the Yakima School District to see what their policy is on drug testing and if they had any input on Elizabeth Andrews, but the district said "No comment" citing the pending lawsuit.

Andrews declined to speak on camera and feels she has a good reason not to: if she ever wants to apply for a teaching job again, she must disclose why she was fired from YSD. She feels that it is a black mark on her name. Magee says it never should have happened in the first place.

"Specifically, they referred to the job offer is what it amounts to. Well, when you read that, it says nothing about there being a pre-employment, suspicion-less drug screening."

We obtained copies of the documents in question, and nowhere in the intent to hire document or the employee contract does it mention anything about a drug test. We also have a copy of the termination letter written to Andrews from YSD Superintendent Dr. Jack Irion, stating she hadn't met the pre-employment contingency requirements.

Rex Carlin spoke with representatives from numerous other area school districts, and none of those districts have a pre-employment drug testing program...with one district official telling him that she wasn't aware of any district in the state operating such a program.

The lawsuit was filed in King County Superior Court. Magee says this is because Andrews was living in King County when the school district made the offer of employment to her.

Magee says Andrews is now currently working in the Seattle School District in a non-teaching role.

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