BOSTON (Nov. 30) - A Massachusetts man fired for smoking while off duty has sued his former company, saying its policy of not employing smokers serves no business purpose and that a urine test for nicotine violates privacy rights, his lawyer said Thursday.
Scott Rodrigues was fired by Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. after a mandatory urine test showed evidence of nicotine in his system, lawyer Harvey Schwartz said. The lawsuit filed in Massachusetts state court Wednesday seeks unspecified damages against the supplier of lawn and garden products.
"Whether or not he smokes has no impact on his job performance," said Schwartz.
He said he was aiming to have Massachusetts declare Scotts' policy illegal. "The company seems fairly messianic in its desire not to employ smokers," the lawyer said.
The lawsuit said Rodrigues, 30, never smoked at work and noted that Scotts' health-related policies do not restrict "skydiving ... owning dangerous pets ... or spreading toxic chemicals on lawns."
The suit claimed Scotts had no right to test Rodrigues' urine for nicotine, since smoking outside the office is legal.
Scotts in December adopted a policy of not hiring smokers, citing the high costs of providing them with health insurance.
Jim King, a vice president at Marysville, Ohio-based Scotts, said the company has not seen the lawsuit and he could not address it. But he did comment on the policy.
"While we're not interested in dictating our employees' behavior in their free time, we look at smoking differently," King said. "Smoking is completely incompatible with a culture that's trying to improve wellness."
Several U.S. states have banned smoking at work, restaurants and bars.
While employers may restrict smoking in the workplace, most U.S. states have laws preventing companies from refusing to employ people who smoke outside the office. Massachusetts is one of about 20 states that does not have such a law.
Other major U.S. companies with policies limiting the hiring of smokers include Union Pacific Corp and Alaska Air Group Inc.
One legal expert said Rodrigues would have a hard time proving his case, due to Massachusetts employment laws.
"The basic rule of employment at will is you can fire someone for a good reason, a bad reason or no reason at all as long as it's not on the list of prohibited reasons," said Katharine Silbaugh, a visiting professor at the Harvard School of Law. "You don't like the Red Sox? I can fire you for that. You smoke? I can fire you for that."