The Rhode Island ACLU has today filed suit against the City of Pawtucket, charging city officials with blatantly violating a state law that restricts random drug testing in the workplace.

The lawsuit, filed in RI Superior Court by ACLU volunteer attorney Richard A. Sinapi, is on behalf of Romana Ramos, a veteran 17-year city employee who works as a police matron and court interpreter. On April 6, Ramos was advised by the City’s Employee Benefits Coordinator, Maria Xiarhos, that she had to immediately submit to a random urine drug screen test. When Ramos objected, she was called into a meeting with Police Chief George Kelly III and Major Paul King who advised her that, pursuant to instructions from the city solicitor, if she refused to take the test she would be immediately suspended without pay for 30 days. Faced with that choice, Ramos agreed to take a urine test as well as a breathalyzer test as she was ordered to. Both tests were negative for drugs or alcohol.

Rhode Island law allows drug testing in the workplace, but in recognition of its invasiveness, intrusion on basic privacy rights and potential inaccuracy, it allows testing of employees only when there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is impaired on the job. Random drug testing is prohibited, and has been for over 20 years. In fact, the suit notes, it is a crime for an employer to subject an employee to an illegal drug test.

The ACLU lawsuit seeks a court order declaring the city’s actions illegal, an injunction barring officials from imposing any further illegal testing demands on Ramos, and an award of compensatory and punitive damages.

Ramos said today: “I felt humiliated and stripped of my dignity when I was forced to take this test for no reason at all. I hope my suit will prevent other employees from having to submit to this offensive practice.” ACLU attorney Sinapi added: “Over twenty years ago, the General Assembly determined that random, post employment urine and blood testing was an unacceptable intrusion on the privacy of employees. An employer in Rhode cannot subject an employee to urine or blood testing without cause. The law was designed to fairly balance the privacy interest of employees with the legitimate business interests of employers. It is unfortunate that city officials in Pawtucket so cavalierly saw fit to violate this important, longstanding law.”