U.S. Steel claims it terminated reserve officer for drug use

Steve Gonzalez Apr. 18, 2007, 11:00am

U.S. Steel is accused of not reinstating an employee that was a member of the U.S. Army Reserves in a civil trial that began in federal court in East St. Louis on April 17.

Samuel Farmer, Jr. filed suit claiming his employer refused to rehire him after his honorable release from active military duty, in violation of the provisions of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994.

Farmer began his employment in April 1996, and claims in January 2003, his military service was activated by presidential order prompting him to provide U.S. Steel with appropriate notice of such service as required by law.

Farmer was a major in the United States Army Reserve and in January 2004, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel.

He was released from active military duty under honorable conditions in January 2005, and notified U.S. Steel of his intent to return to his position but alleges they failed to give him his job back.

U.S. Steel denies Farmer's allegations and claims it hired him back on Feb. 15, 2005, but terminated him for cause on May 5, 2005, because a hair sample tested positive for cocaine and cocaine metabolites.

U.S. Steel claims Farmer failed to provide verifiable information showing just cause for the positive drug test after he had been given an opportunity to do so.

The company also allege that Farmer failed two separate drug tests.

U.S. Steel claims its actions were legitimate and would have been taken regardless of Farmer's military status because of the positive drug test.

The company further alleges that they would have fired Farmer because they learned he was convicted of a felony in 2001, for aggravated unlawful use of a weapon.

On March 1, Chief Judge G. Patrick Murphy denied U.S. Steel's motion for a summary judgment.

In the order Murphy wrote, "The Court is not convinced that either party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."

He added, "There are many material disputes of fact which must be resolved by a trial."

Murphy also said that there are a myriad of questions that surround the drug test.

He wrote, "Can a proper chain of custody be established? Was the testing accurate? What happened to the second drug test? Were the results altered in some way? What was communicated to U.S. Steel and when?"

"These are all questions that the jury will have to decide," Murphy wrote. "Granting summary judgment on any claim for any party based on this record is an invitation to commit reversible error, an invitation which this Court passes."

On Tuesday, Murphy also granted all of Farmer's motions in limine and denied a motion in limine filed by U.S. Steel.

Farmer, represented by Ferne Wolf and Eric Sowers of St. Louis, asked Murphy to enter an order precluding U.S. Steel from calling as a witness at trial Thomas Cairns for the purpose of giving expert testimony.

He claims U.S. Steel failed to disclose Cairns was going to testify until March 22, which was past the deadline for disclosing experts.

Farmer also asked Murphy to enter an order instructing defense counsel and, through, defense counsel, all witnesses called on behalf of defendants to be instructed to refrain from any mention or interrogation, that three employees of defendant returned to work from military leave.

U.S. Steel, represented by Thomas Scott Stewart of the Hepler Broom firm and Mark Larson from U.S. Steel headquarters in Pittsburgh, asked Murphy to enter an order to exclude Farmer's expert Dr. Christopher Long from offering any testimony on the forensic admissibility of the drug test.

U.S. Steel contended that Long's suggestion that the drug test sample may have been contaminated is not supported by material facts.

They also claim that Long's inability to test the hair sample is irrelevant and should be excluded because it will only confuse the jury.

U.S. Steel maintains that just because Long does not have the ability to test the hair sample does not prove or disprove the accuracy of the drug test that was actually done.

After opening statements were made on Tuesday, Farmer took the stand at 11:35 a.m. and testified until 4:10.

The trial is expected to last at least a week.

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