440 U.S. 568 (1979), 77-1427, New York City Transit Authority v. Beazer

Docket Nº:No. 77-1427
Citation:440 U.S. 568, 99 S.Ct. 1355, 59 L.Ed.2d 587
Party Name:New York City Transit Authority v. Beazer
Case Date:March 21, 1979
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 568

440 U.S. 568 (1979)

99 S.Ct. 1355, 59 L.Ed.2d 587

New York City Transit Authority

v.

Beazer

No. 77-1427

United States Supreme Court

March 21, 1979

Argued December 6, 1978

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner, New York City Transit Authority (TA), which, in operating the subway system and certain bus lines in New York City, employs about 47,000 persons, of whom many are employed in positions that involve danger to themselves or to the public, enforces a general policy against employing persons who use narcotic drugs. TA interprets its drug regulation to encompass current users of methadone, including those receiving methadone maintenance treatment for curing heroin addiction. Respondents, two former employees of TA who were dismissed while they were receiving methadone treatment, and two persons who were refused employment because they were receiving methadone treatment, brought a class action, alleging, inter alia, that TA's blanket exclusion of all former heroin addicts receiving methadone treatments was illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The District Court found that TA's blanket methadone policy violates the Equal Protection Clause, and granted injunctive relief which, however, authorized TA to exclude methadone users from specific categories of safety-sensitive positions and also to condition eligibility on satisfactory performance in a methadone program for at least a year. Subsequently, the District Court also held that TA's drug policy violates Title VII because, even though the policy was not adopted with a discriminatory purpose, it nevertheless was not related to any of TA's business needs. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's constitutional holding without reaching the statutory question.

Held:

1. An amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 after certiorari was granted, even if construed to proscribe TA's enforcement of a general rule denying employment to methadone users, does not render the case moot, since respondents' claims arose even before that Act itself was passed, and they have been awarded monetary relief. More importantly, however this Court might construe that Act, the concerns that prompted the grant of certiorari -- the lower courts' departure from the procedure normally followed in addressing statutory and constitutional questions in the same case, and the concern that those courts

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erroneously decided the merits of such questions -- would still merit this Court's attention. Pp. 580-581.

2. The statistical evidence on which respondents and the District Court relied does not support the conclusion that TA's regulation prohibiting the use of narcotics, or its interpretation of that regulation to encompass users of methadone, violated Title VII. Pp. 583-587.

(a) The statistic that 81% of the employees referred to TA's medical director for suspected violations of its narcotics rule were either black or Hispanic indicates nothing about the racial composition of the employees suspected of using methadone, and respondents have only challenged the rule to the extent that it is construed to apply to methadone users. Nor does the record provide any information about the number of black, Hispanic, or white persons who were dismissed for using methadone. Pp. 584-585.

(b) The statistic that about 63% of the persons in New York City receiving methadone maintenance in public programs are black or Hispanic does not indicate how many of these persons ever worked or sought to work for TA; tells nothing about the class of otherwise qualified applicants and employees who have participated in methadone maintenance programs for over a year, the only class improperly excluded by TA's policy under the District Court's analysis; and affords no data on the 14,000 methadone users in private programs, leaving open the possibility that the percentage of blacks and Hispanics in the class of methadone users is not significantly greater than the percentage of those minorities in the general population of New York City. Pp. 585-586.

(c) Even if respondents' statistical showing is considered to be sufficient to establish a prima facie case of discrimination, it is rebutted by TA's demonstration that its narcotics rule (and the rule's application to methadone users) is "job-related." The District Court's finding that the rule was not motivated by racial animus forecloses any claim that it was merely a pretext for intentional discrimination. P. 587.

3. TA's blanket exclusion of persons who regularly use narcotic drugs, including methadone, does not violate the Equal Protection Clause for failing to include more precise special rules for methadone users [99 S.Ct. 1358] who have progressed satisfactorily [99 S.Ct. 1356] with their treatment for one year and who, when examined individually, satisfy TA's employment criteria for nonsensitive jobs. Pp. 587-594.

(a) An employment policy such as TA's that postpones eligibility for employment until the methadone treatment has been completed, rather than accepting an intermediate point on an uncertain line -- such as one year of treatment -- is rational, and is neither unprincipled nor

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invidious in the sense that it implies disrespect for the excluded subclass. Pp. 590-592.

(b) Even assuming that TA's rule is broader than necessary to exclude those methadone users who are not actually qualified to work for TA, and that it is probably unwise for a large employer like TA to rely on a general rule, instead of individualized considerations of every job applicant, nevertheless, under the circumstances of this case, such assumptions concern matters of personnel policy that do not implicate the principle safeguarded by the Equal Protection Clause. Pp. 592-593.

558 F.2d 97, reversed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 594. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting statement, post, p. 597. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 597.

STEVENS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE SEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The New York City Transit Authority refuses to employ persons who use methadone. The District Court found that this policy violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In a subsequent opinion, the court also held that the policy violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Court of Appeals affirmed without reaching the statutory question. The departure by those courts from the procedure normally followed in addressing statutory and constitutional

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questions in the same case, as well as concern that the merits of these important questions had been decided erroneously, led us to grant certiorari.1 438 U.S. 904. We now reverse.

The Transit Authority (TA) operates the subway system and certain bus lines in New York City. It employs about 47,000 persons, of whom many -- perhaps most -- are employed in positions that involve danger to themselves or to the public. For example, some 12,300 are subway motormen, towermen, conductors, or bus operators. The District Court found that these jobs are attended by unusual hazards, and must be performed by "persons of maximum alertness and competence." 399 F.Supp. 1032, 1052 (SDNY 1975). Certain other jobs, such as operating cranes and handling high-voltage equipment, are also considered "critical" or "safety sensitive," while still others, though classified as "noncritical," have a potentially important impact on the overall operation of the transportation system.2

TA enforces a general policy against employing persons

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who use narcotic drugs. The policy is reflected in Rule 11(b) of TA's Rules and Regulations.

Employees must not use, or have in their possession, narcotics, tranquilizers, [99 S.Ct. 1359] drugs of the Amphetamine group or barbiturate derivatives or paraphernalia used to administer narcotics or barbiturate derivatives, except with the written permission of the Medical Director -- Chief Surgeon of the System.

Methadone is regarded as a narcotic within the meaning of Rule 11(b). No written permission has ever been given by TA's medical director for the employment of a person using methadone.3

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The District Court found that methadone is a synthetic narcotic and a central nervous system depressant. If injected into the bloodstream with a needle, it produces essentially the same effects as heroin.4 Methadone has been used legitimately in at least three ways -- as a pain killer, in "detoxification units" of hospitals as an immediate means of taking addicts off of heroin,5 and in long-range "methadone maintenance programs" as part of an intended cure for heroin addiction. See 21 CFR § 310.304(b) (1978). In such programs, the methadone is taken orally in regular doses for a prolonged period. As so administered, it does not produce euphoria or any pleasurable effects associated with heroin; on the contrary, it prevents users from experiencing those effects

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when they inject heroin, and also alleviates the severe and prolonged discomfort otherwise associated with an addict's discontinuance of the use of heroin.

[99 S.Ct. 1360] About 40,000 persons receive methadone maintenance treatment in New York City, of whom about 26,000 participate in the five major public or semipublic programs6 and 14,000 are involved in about 25 private programs.7 The sole purpose of all these programs is to treat the addiction of persons who have been using heroin for at least two...

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