New York City Transit Authority v. Beazer
440 U.S. 568 (1979)
[Majority: Stevens, Blackmun, Burger (C.J.), Rehnquist, and Stewart. Concurring in part, dissenting in part: Powell. Dissenting: Brennan, Marshall, and White.]
Justice Stevens 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 14th Amendment. . . . The Court of Appeals affirmed. . . . 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. . . .
TA enforces a general policy against employing persons who use narcotic drugs. . . . Methadone is regarded as a narcotic. . . . No written permission has ever been given by TA’s medical director for the employment of a person using methadone.
The District Court found that methadone is a synthetic narcotic and a central nervous system depressant. . . . 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, and in long-range “methadone maintenance programs” as part of an intended cure for heroin addiction. . . . 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 when they inject heroin, and also alleviates the severe and prolonged discomfort otherwise associated with an addict’s discontinuance of the use of heroin. . . .
[The complaint alleges] that TA’s blanket exclusion of all former heroin addicts receiving methadone treatment was illegal under . . . the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
The trial record contains extensive evidence concerning the success of methadone maintenance programs, the employability of persons taking methadone, and the ability of prospective employers to detect drug abuse or other undesirable characteristics of methadone users. In general, the District Court concluded that there are substantial numbers of methadone users who are just as employable as other members of the general population and that normal personnel-screening procedures — at least if augmented by some method of obtaining information from the staffs of methadone programs — would enable TA to identify the unqualified applicants on an individual basis. On the other hand, the District Court recognized that at least one-third of the persons receiving methadone treatment — and probably a good many more — would unquestionably be classified as unemployable.
After extensively reviewing the evidence, the District Court [concluded that] . . . [b]ecause it is clear that substantial numbers of methadone users are capable of performing many of the jobs at TA, the . . . Constitution will not tolerate a blanket exclusion of all users from all jobs.
The District Court enjoined TA from denying employment to any person solely because of participation in a methadone maintenance program. Recognizing, however, the special responsibility for public safety borne by certain TA employees and the correlation between longevity in a methadone maintenance program and performance capability, the injunction 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. In other words, the court held that TA could lawfully adopt general rules excluding all methadone users from some jobs and a large number of methadone users from all jobs. . . .
III. . . . At its simplest, the District Court’s conclusion was that TA’s rule is broader than necessary to exclude those methadone users who are not actually qualified to work for TA. We may assume not only that this conclusion is correct but also that it is probably unwise for a large employer like TA to rely on a general rule instead of individualized consideration of every job applicant. But these assumptions concern matters of personnel policy that do not implicate the principle safeguarded by the Equal Protection Clause. As the District Court recognized, the special classification created by TA’s rule serves the general objectives of safety and efficiency. Moreover, the exclusionary line challenged by respondents “is not one which is directed ‘against’ any individual or category of persons, but rather it represents a policy choice . . . made by that branch of Government vested with the power to make such choices.” Marshall v. United States (1974). Because it does not circumscribe a class of persons characterized by some unpopular trait or affiliation, it does not create or reflect any special likelihood of bias on the part of the ruling majority. Under these circumstances, it is of no constitutional significance that the degree of rationality is not as great with respect to certain ill-defined subparts of the classification as it is with respect to the classification as a whole.
No matter how unwise it may be for TA to refuse employment to individual car cleaners, track repairmen, or bus drivers simply because they are receiving methadone treatment, the Constitution does not authorize a federal court to interfere in that policy decision. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.
Justice Powell, concurring in part and dissenting in part.[Omitted.]
Justice Brennan, dissenting.[Omitted.]
Justice White, with whom Justice Marshall joins, dissenting. . . .
- . . . The District Court found that the evidence conclusively established that petitioners exclude from employment all persons who are successfully on methadone maintenance — that is, those who after one year are “free of the use of heroin, other illicit drugs, and problem drinking,” . . . that past or present successful methadone maintenance is not a meaningful predictor of poor performance or conduct in most job categories; that petitioners could use their normal employee-screening mechanisms to separate the successfully maintained users from the unsuccessful; and that petitioners do exactly that for other groups that common sense indicates might also be suspect employees. Petitioners did not challenge these factual conclusions in the Court of Appeals, but that court nonetheless reviewed the evidence and found that it overwhelmingly supported the District Court’s findings. It bears repeating, then, that both the District Court and the Court of Appeals found that those who have been maintained on methadone for at least a year and who are free from the use of illicit drugs and alcohol can easily be identified through normal personnel procedures and, for a great many jobs, are as employable as and present no more risk than applicants from the general population. . . .
The question before us is the rationality of placing successfully maintained or recently cured persons in the same category as those just attempting to escape heroin addiction or who have failed to escape it, rather than in with the general population. The asserted justification for the challenged classification is the objective of a capable and reliable work force, and thus the characteristic in question is employability. “Employability,” in this regard, does not mean that any particular applicant, much less every member of a given group of applicants, will turn out to be a model worker. Nor does it mean that no such applicant will ever become or be discovered to be a malingerer, thief, alcoholic, or even heroin addict. All employers take such risks. Employability, as the District Court used it in reference to successfully maintained methadone users, means only that the employer is no more likely to find a member of that group to be an unsatisfactory employee than he would an employee chosen from the general population.
Petitioners had every opportunity, but presented nothing to negative the employability of successfully maintained methadone users as distinguished from those who were unsuccessful. Instead, petitioners, like the Court, dwell on the methadone failures — those who quit the programs or who remain but turn to illicit drug use. . . . That 20% to 30% are unsuccessful after one year in a methadone program tells us nothing about the employability of the successful group, and it is the latter category of applicants that the District Court and the Court of Appeals held to be unconstitutionally burdened by the blanket rule disqualifying them from employment. . . .
The District Court found that the fact of successful participation for one year could be discovered through petitioners’ normal screening process without additional effort and, I repeat, that those who meet that criterion are no more likely than the average applicant to turn out to be poor employees. Accordingly, the rule’s classification of successfully maintained persons as dispositively different from the general population is left without any justification and, with its irrationality and invidiousness thus uncovered, must fall before the Equal Protection Clause.
Finally, even were the District Court wrong, and even were successfully maintained persons marginally less employable than the average applicant, the blanket exclusion of only these people, when but a few are actually unemployable and when many other groups have varying numbers of unemployable members, is arbitrary and unconstitutional. Many persons now suffer from or may again suffer from some handicap related to employability. But petitioners have singled out respondents — unlike ex-offenders, former alcoholics and mental patients, diabetics, epileptics, and those currently using tranquilizers, for example — for sacrifice to this at best ethereal and likely nonexistent risk of increased unemployability. Such an arbitrary assignment of burdens among classes that are similarly situated with respect to the proffered objectives is the type of invidious choice forbidden by the Equal Protection Clause.
. “[L]egislative classifications are valid unless they bear no rational relationship to the State’s objectives. State legislation ‘does not violate the Equal Protection Clause merely because the classifications [it makes] are imperfect.’ Dandridge v. Williams (1970).” Washington v. Yakima Indian Nation (1979). . . .
. I have difficulty also with the Court’s easy conclusion that the challenged rule was “[q]uite plainly” not motivated “by any special animus against a specific group of persons.” Heroin addiction is a special problem of the poor, and the addict population is composed largely of racial minorities that the Court has previously recognized as politically powerless and historical subjects of majoritarian neglect. Persons on methadone maintenance have few interests in common with members of the majority, and thus are unlikely to have their interests protected, or even considered, in governmental decisionmaking. Indeed, petitioners stipulated that “[o]ne of the reasons for the . . . drug policy is the fact that [petitioners] fee[l] an adverse public reaction would result if it were generally known that [petitioners] employed persons with a prior history of drug abuse, including persons participating in methadone maintenance programs.” It is hard for me to reconcile that stipulation of animus against former addicts with our past holdings that “a bare . . . desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot constitute a legitimate governmental interest.” United States Dept. of Agriculture v. Moreno (1973). On the other hand, the afflictions to which petitioners are more sympathetic, such as alcoholism and mental illness, are shared by both white and black, rich and poor.
Some weight should also be given to the history of the rule. Petitioners admit that it was not the result of a reasoned policy decision and stipulated that they had never studied the ability of those on methadone maintenance to perform petitioners’ jobs. Petitioners are not directly accountable to the public, are not the type of official body that normally makes legislative judgments of fact such as those relied upon by the majority today, and are by nature more concerned with business efficiency than with other public policies for which they have no direct responsibility. . . .