Lawsuit with a Purpose




(Please note that details have been changed to protect the identity of this patient).

One of my patients made me so proud today. I was beaming with joy as she told me what took place at her last job.

At her last visit, she said she thought she was about to get fired from a relatively new job because an ex-boyfriend told her co-workers that she had a drug use history and was on Suboxone for treatment. In turn, her boss accused her of taking drugs at work and stealing from the company. He asked her directly if she was taking Suboxone. Caught off-guard, and unsure how it was any of his business, she lied and told him no, she wasn’t taking Suboxone. Coincidentally, she had an appointment with me later that day, and we talked about her dilemma during her visit.

Please note that her job wasn’t safety-sensitive, the employer had no policy relating to drug screening of employees, and no one had seen my patients taking Suboxone or any other medication. There was no allegation that she had been impaired at work or unable to do her job.

At her visit, she told me she hated to lie and felt like she should tell the employer that she was on Suboxone. I told her that of course that’s her choice, but that I didn’t think it was proper for an employer to ask about any medications.

I did offer to write a letter she could give to her employer stating that she’s on Suboxone for the treatment of a medical condition, that she’s been in recovery for many years, and that the medication does not impair her ability to work. She wanted this letter, thinking it could help her keep her job. I also added a paragraph at the end that said patients on medication for treatment of opioid use disorder are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Because I write so many letters, I was able to type it quickly, printed it on my letterhead and have it ready for her by the end of her visit.

I mentioned in passing that I’ve seen similar cases where an employer fired a patient on Suboxone but then to avoid charges of violating the ADA, claimed the termination was for other reasons, and it becomes difficult to prove.

My patient heard this, because when she met with her employer the next day, she secretly recorded him on her cell phone. At her visit with me today, she played the recording. He bluntly told her he didn’t want anyone on drugs working with him and that it was a small town and people talk and he wanted to keep his good name. My patient didn’t interrupt him, letting him dig his own hole a little deeper with each sentence. She was told she was fired at the end of this meeting, despite giving him my letter stating she was able to do her job without problems from the Suboxone.

Here’s the delicious part: armed with the recording, she went to a lawyer in a local big city, who feels she has an excellent case of discrimination because she’s on Suboxone. He took her case and sent an initial demand letter to the ex-employer asking for a healthy six-figure settlement.

I love this. For too long, people in recovery have endured discrimination of all kinds. Here, it appears, is a winnable case that might make people think twice about firing people for being in recovery.

I’m so proud of my patient for taking the initiative and pursuing action on her own behalf. I don’t know how things will turn out, but I hope she gets a nice settlement for being the target of discriminatory behavior.

I have permission from my patient to discuss this on my blog, so I will keep you posted.

6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Betsy Ragone on January 5, 2020 at 11:35 pm

    This is great news.
    Some people will never accept that SUD is a disease, and sadly you can’t always “educate’ the stigma away. If there is a legal decision in your patients favor this will be a breakthrough. Fingers crossed


  2. Posted by Charles Erickson on January 6, 2020 at 12:56 am

    Terrific. I hope your patient wins. This could easily have been me, I suppose it still could be some day.


  3. Posted by Alan Wartenberg MD on January 7, 2020 at 10:00 pm

    Both individual suits like this one and larger class action suits (often by pro bono public interest lawyers) have resulted in elimination of state funding limitations for both drug treatment and treatment illnesses like hepatitis C, HIV and need for transplantation in SUD patients. Bravo!


  4. Wishing your patient wins! You will be able to sue as a complete group.


  5. Posted by Joe Rader on October 16, 2020 at 3:23 pm

    I wish I knew some attorneys who would fight for discrimination against people taking suboxone because I definitely was discriminated against in my custody battle verses the state.


    • Maybe you could try your state’s ACLU office. I believe they helped with that case in Maine when the Suboxone patient was sentenced to a time in jail and jailers weren’t going to allow him to stay on meds. He and his lawyers won that case. It’s worth a try, anyway. I’d put your state’s name and “ACLU” into Google to find them.


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