CHARLESTON - A random drug test and possibly positive result was a breach of contract, according to a McDowell County man who was fired after S.W. Jack Drilling Company found his urine sample to test positive for opiates.
James Cottle insists the result was incorrect and that the test itself violated the company's own guidelines in a lawsuit filed Feb. 10 in Kanawha Circuit Court.
He also charges the company with wrongful discharge and negligence.
"The defendant did not conduct its drug test in accordance with its own procedures as set forth in its Drug, Alcohol, and Abuse Policy," the claim states. "The Plaintiff seeks judgment for a sum of money equal to back pay and benefits owing to plaintiff since his termination from employment; compensatory damages; and reinstatement and front pay."
Cottle was hired July 19, 2005, to work as a derrick hand on the construction of gas wells for S.W. Jack Drilling, a Pennsylvania company with offices in Kanawha and Upshur counties. Before he could be hired, Cottle said he underwent a drug test that he passed, and that the company mailed him "The Jack Company Safety Manual," which contained a "Drug, Alcohol, and Abuse Policy" that all employees are subject to.
On Oct. 12, Cottle says he was working at a site in Kenna at 10 p.m. when Safety Director John Cook arrived in a pickup truck to conduct a random drug testing of seven crew members, including Cottle.
"Cottle, along with six other employees, were given sealed bags with a cup inside and paper strips inside the cup," the claim says. "Standing outside in the dark, they were directed to go to the other side of Mr. Cook's pickup truck to collect their urine samples."
Cook peeled a strip of paper off the outside of Cottle's cup and informed him that he had just tested positive for opiates, Cottle says.
Cottle maintained that the only extraordinary chemicals in his system were his blood pressure medication and prescribed Zantac, but he says he was ordered off the premises by Cook.
Before leaving, Cottle was told to pour his urine sample in a separate cup to be shipped to a laboratory in Louisiana for further testing, he says. He adds that he noted the bottle wasn't sealed when he last saw it because as Cook pulled the paper to seal it, it broke.
Cottle says he was told to call the lab in Louisiana to learn the results of the sample's further analysis, but when he tried, the lab told him he would have to contact the employer to gain access to the results.
When he called the Kenna work site, Cottle says, no one there knew the results. Frustrated, he called the company's main office in Indiana, Penn., and was told he was fired because he tested positive on location.
Cottle still insists that he had no opiates or other non-prescribed controlled substances in his system on October 12 or any other time during his employment. He says he's never been informed of his test results from the laboratory in Louisiana.
He adds that the random drug test that took place was in
violation of the company's own policy regarding testing.
Cottle, who is represented by Debra Kilgore, demands a trial by jury. Circuit Judge Duke Bloom has been assigned the case.
Kanawha County Circuit Court case number 06-C-260