Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Dix v. Casey's General Stores, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 9, 2020

TYLER DIX, JASON CATTELL, JIMMY McCANN, and JULIE ELLER, Plaintiffs-Appellees/Cross-Appellants,
CASEY'S GENERAL STORES, INC. and CASEY'S MARKETING COMPANY, Defendants-Appellants/Cross-Appellees.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Michael D. Huppert, Judge.

         An employer appeals the district court's grant of relief to former employees who challenged its drug-testing program under Iowa Code section 730.5. Former employees cross appeal other aspects of the ruling.

          Ann H. Kendell of Brown, Winick, Graves, Gross, Baskerville & Schoenebaum, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellants.

          David Albrecht of Fielder Law Firm, PLC, Johnston, and Matthew M. Sahag of Dickey & Campbell Law Firm, PLC, Des Moines, for appellees.

          Heard by Doyle, P.J., and Tabor and Schumacher, JJ.

          TABOR, Judge.

         This case involves employee drug testing conducted by Casey's General Stores, Inc. and Casey's Marketing Company (Casey's) under Iowa Code section 730.5 (2016). Former employees Jason Cattell, Tyler Dix, Julie Eller, and Jimmy McCann challenged the termination of their employment after three of them tested positive and one was unable to give a urine sample.

         Following a trial to the bench, the district court found Casey's improperly included Eller and McCann in the pool of safety-sensitive workers from which it selected employees to test. The court awarded Eller back and front pay and awarded McCann back pay. Casey's appeals those awards to Eller and McCann as inequitable and asserts statutory immunity. McCann cross appeals seeking front pay. By contrast, the court found Casey's properly included Cattell and Dix in the testing pool. But the court held Casey's violated the statute by failing to provide those employees with a specific list of drugs to be tested and failing to allow them to provide information relevant to testing. Still, the court did not grant Cattell and Dix relief, finding they did not prove those statutory violations resulted in adverse employment actions. Cattell and Dix cross appeal that decision. Finding no reversible error, we affirm on both the appeal and cross-appeal issues.

         I. Statutory Requirements and Background Facts

         In January 2016, Casey's notified employees at its Ankeny warehouse about a new drug-testing policy authorized under Iowa Code section 730.5. That statute allows private employers to conduct drug and alcohol testing in compliance with detailed safeguards set out in the code and consistent with the employer's own written policy with proper notice to employees. The employer may test on an unannounced and periodic basis. Iowa Code § 730.5(1)(i).[1]

         The employer may elect to test employees selected from certain pools: (1)"[t]he entire employee population at a particular work site," (2) "[t]he entire fulltime active employee population at a particular work site," or (3) "[a]ll employees at a particular work site who are in a pool of employees in a safety-sensitive position and who are scheduled to be at work at the time testing is conducted." Id. § 730.5(8)(a). For unannounced drug testing, employees must be selected "based on a neutral and objective selection process" and "by an entity independent from the employer" using a "computer-based random number generator." Id. § 730.5(1)(l). The procedure should ensure "each member of the employee population subject to testing has an equal chance of selection for initial testing." Id. The testing "shall be carried out within the terms of a written policy," and such policy must be "provided to every employee subject to testing" and "available for review by employees." Id. § 730.5(9)(a)(1).

         The statute allows employers to take disciplinary action against employees who test positive or refuse to test including termination of their employment. Id. § 730.5(10)(a)(3). And the statute gives "an aggrieved employee" a civil cause of action against "[a] person who violates this section." Id. § 730.5(15)(a). But the statute affords an employer immunity from a cause of action if the employer acts in good faith following a positive test if the employer "has established a policy and initiated a testing program" in accordance with the safeguards in the statute. Id. § 730.5(11), (11)(a).

         Against that statutory backdrop, Casey's unveiled its new testing policy. Cattell, Dix, Eller, and McCann all received the policy. Casey's planned to perform drug tests on a periodic basis without advanced notice to employees. The policy stated Casey's would select employees for testing at "random" from "a pool of employees in a safety-sensitive position who are scheduled to be at work at the time testing is conducted." The policy also stated, "All employees have an equal chance of being selected." Casey's advised it would terminate any employee who gave a confirmed positive test, refused to take a test, or failed to provide an adequate sample.

         Casey's contracted with an outside laboratory, ARCpoint, to select the employees and administer the tests. Casey's also contracted with an outside lab to conduct the medical review mandated under section 730.5(7)(h) (requiring a medical review officer to interpret any confirmed positive test results to ensure any information provided by the individual is considered before reporting the results to the employer).

         In April 2016, Dix, Cattell, McCann, and Eller all worked at Casey's Ankeny warehouse. Casey's designated all warehouse employees as holding safety-sensitive positions. When those employees received notice of the new policy, they signed an acknowledgment of their understanding. In the warehouse, Dix and Cattell worked on heavy-duty tasks such as building pallets and operating forklifts to load trucks. McCann and Eller performed light-duty assignments in the tobacco returns area. That area was cordoned off within the warehouse by a chain-link fence, earning the structure its nickname-"the cage."

         Casey's administered its first unannounced test on April 6, 2016. The day before, Casey's gave ARCpoint a roster of the 184 employees scheduled to work at the warehouse. Casey's asked ARCpoint to select 90% of the names for testing.[2] To select employees to be tested, ARCpoint used an internet-based random number generator, called Research Randomizer.[3] As it turned out, due to absences and other circumstances, Casey's ended up testing all employees at work on April 6. The four plaintiffs were on the original list of selected employees.

         On testing day, Casey's Vice President Jay Blair gathered all employees in the warehouse, announced the testing, and informed them, "If any of you are taking a prescription, do not discuss it with us. You should proceed to the test and, if applicable, the Medical Review Officer will contact you at a later date to substantiate the prescription." He also said, "If any of you wish to refuse to test, you are free to leave at any time and it is regarded as a resignation."

         Casey's moved employees into "holding areas" so they could not leave or falsify tests. From there, Casey's escorted the employees in pairs to the warehouse restrooms where they entered individual stalls and provided urine specimens. Casey's and ARCpoint employees were present in the restrooms outside the stalls and collected the specimens for testing. ARCpoint employees conducted initial tests at the warehouse. Employees tested either "negative" or "nonnegative." Casey's informed employees who had "nonnegative" tests that they were suspended. Later, employees with "nonnegative" initial tests received by certified letters the results of confirmatory tests specifying the drugs detected.

         Cattell, Dix, and McCann gave their samples as directed. Cattell and McCann both tested positive for marijuana and amphetamine; Dix tested positive for marijuana. Casey's ultimately fired all three. Eller did not provide a specimen sufficient for testing on the first try. Casey's provided her water to drink, but she was still unable to provide a sufficient sample on the second try. At that point, Eller chose to leave, and Casey's deemed her action to be a voluntary resignation.

         Cattell, Dix, Eller, and McCann filed civil claims against Casey's under section 730.5(15). The district court consolidated their actions. After extensive pretrial litigation, the parties tried the claims to the bench.

         II. District Court Decision

         At trial, the employees alleged Casey's violated the statute in numerous ways. Their threshold allegation dealt with the selection of the employees to be tested. The employees then claimed even if Casey's properly selected them, the employer violated the statute in carrying out the drug test in six ways: (1) failing to pursue periodic testing; (2) failing to identify the warehouse as a collection site; (3) failing to properly train its employees in administering the testing; (4) failing to provide adequate privacy at the testing site; (5) failing to give employees an adequate opportunity to provide relevant information; and (6) failing to give employees a specific list of the drugs being tested.

         Resolving the threshold issue, the district court concluded Casey's method for selecting employees for testing substantially complied with the statute with one exception-the court found Casey's improperly designated McCann and Eller, as being in "safety-sensitive positions." Because Casey's should not have tested Eller and McCann in the first instance, the district court granted them relief.

         On the other claims related to selection of employees for testing, the district court found Casey's substantially complied with the statute. On the remaining six claims regarding testing procedures, the district court agreed with Cattell and Dix on two points: (1) Casey's did not give employees adequate opportunity to provide additional information relevant to the testing and (2) Casey's did not give the employees a list of the drugs being tested. The court found both defects violated the statute. But the court also found Cattell and Dix did not prove they suffered an adverse employment action as a result of these defects and were not, therefore, "aggrieved" under the statute. For that reason, the court found they could not obtain relief.

         Casey's appeals the district court's grant of relief to Eller and McCann. Eller and McCann defend the court's ruling on their claims and, joining Cattell and Dix, cross-appeal the denial of their remaining claims.

         III. Scope of Review/Compliance Standard

         The parties differ on the scope of review. To settle their dispute, we look first to the language of the statute.

         The civil remedies subsection states:

a. This section may be enforced through a civil action.
(1) A person who violates this section or who aids in the violation of this section is liable to an aggrieved employee or prospective employee for affirmative relief including reinstatement or hiring, with or without back pay, or any other equitable relief as the court deems appropriate including attorney fees and court costs.

         Iowa Code § 730.5(15). The statute also provides for injunctive relief. See id. § 730.5(15)(a)(2).

         Casey's seizes on the availability of equitable relief to argue the district court sat in equity and thus our review would be de novo. See Iowa R. App. P. 6.907. On the other side, the employees note we review questions of statutory construction for correction of errors at law. See Ryan v. Heritage Trails Assocs., Inc., 745 N.W.2d 724, 728 (Iowa 2008). Our supreme court reviewed for correction of legal error in its most recent cases under section 730.5. See Ferguson v. Exide Tech., Inc., __ N.W.2d__, __, 2019 WL 6794312, at *2 (Iowa 2019); Sims v. NCI Holding Corp., 759 N.W.2d 333, 337 (Iowa 2009); but see Skipton v. S & J Tube, Inc., No. 11-1902, 2012 WL 3860446, at *4-5 (Iowa Ct. App. Sept. 6, 2012) (reviewing de novo because case was tried in equity with no evidentiary objections). In Sims, the parties submitted the case by stipulated facts. 759 N.W.2d at 337.[4] Following Sims, we will review for correction of errors at law.

         We will affirm the district court's findings of fact if they are supported by substantial evidence. Tow v. Truck Country of Iowa, 695 N.W.2d 36, 38 (Iowa 2005). Evidence is substantial if a reasonable mind would accept the evidence as adequate to reach the same findings. Frontier Props. Corp. v. Swanberg, 488 N.W.2d 146, 147 (Iowa 1992).

         The parties also spar over the level of compliance necessary to satisfy section 730.5. The employees argue Casey's must meet the statutory requirements with strict compliance. They acknowledge Sims held substantial compliance with the notice requirements was adequate. See 759 N.W.2d at 338. But they view Sims as a narrow exception. We disagree. Substantial compliance means satisfying the reasonable objectives of a statute as to essential matters. Id. Our courts have adopted that level of compliance for other important matters. See, e.g., State v. Myers, 653 N.W.2d 574, 578 (Iowa 2002) (guilty plea colloquy); Nedved v. Welch, 585 N.W.2d 238, 240 (Iowa 1998) (disclosure of expert witnesses); Iowa Dep't of Human Servs. ex rel. Greenhaw v. Stewart, 579 N.W.2d 321, 323 (Iowa 1998) (notices of appeal); Brutsche v. Coon Rapids Cmty. Sch. Dist., 255 N.W.2d 337, 342 (Iowa 1977) (notice of an election). We believe substantial compliance applies to all mandates in section 730.5.

         IV. ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.