BOSTON (1 August, 2005) – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – Bingham McCutchen LLP and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights have filed a civil rights lawsuit in Massachusetts Superior Court against the City of Boston, the Boston Police Department, and Kathleen O’Toole, Commissioner of the Boston Police Department.
The lawsuit was filed yesterday on behalf of seven former Boston police officers, one
candidate, and the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers,
which represents the interests of law enforcement officers and candidates. The
seven former Boston police officers were wrongfully terminated by the Police
Department based on allegedly positive results on a “Hair Test” — a controversial,
unreliable, and racially biased method of testing hair samples for the presence of
illegal drugs. In addition to the former police officers, the lawsuit includes a candidate
who was denied employment on the same basis.
The officers who were fired served on the force with distinction, including
commendations and medals, for between 4 and 28 years, and collectively for nearly
100 years. Each officer had taken and passed a mandatory annual drug test every
time that it had been administered in prior years. None of the plaintiffs has a history
or record of using illegal drugs. The allegedly positive result on the Hair Test is the
only “evidence” of illegal drug use that the Department considered in deciding to fire
and refuse to hire the plaintiffs.
The Department relies solely on the results of the Hair Test, despite its documented
unreliability and its tendency to yield false-positive results for African Americans.
Among other problems, experts have noted that a hair sample may test positive due
to external contamination from environmental exposure to illegal drugs and that
certain properties of African Americans’ hair make it more likely that such external
contamination will cause false-positive results. Current methods used to test hair
samples lack both adequate controls and effective decontamination procedures. In
short, the Hair Test cannot differentiate between a positive result caused by the
ingestion of illegal drugs and a positive result due to external contamination.
Alternative, less discriminatory drug-testing methods, based on urine or blood
samples, are available.
Psychemedics Corp. performs the hair tests for the Boston Police Department. One
plaintiff received allegedly positive and negative results on tests performed by
Psychemedics on hair samples taken on the very same day. In the case of another
plaintiff, negative and allegedly positive results were obtained from tests performed
by Psychemedics on hair samples taken only one day apart.
“We do not oppose the drug testing of police officers,” said Angela Williams-Mitchell,
president of the Massachusetts Association of Law Enforcement Officers. “All we
want is drug testing that is reliable, fair, and racially unbiased.”
“It is critical to understand that the Boston Police Department is making hiring and
firing decisions based solely on the results of this unreliable and biased method of
drug testing,” said Rheba Rutkowski, an attorney at Bingham McCutchen, which,
along with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, is handling the case on a pro
bono basis. “The Police Department’s policy is unfair. No meaningful consideration is
given to other factors, such as independent drug tests that refute the allegedly
positive results of the Hair Test, or to an officer’s service record, including the
absence of illegal drug use.”
“Hiring and firing police officers based on a racially biased, scientifically unreliable
hair drug test is a clear violation of the plaintiffs’ civil rights,” said Nadine Cohen of
the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, one of the lawyers representing the
plaintiffs. “It’s bad policy, and it’s bad for Boston.”