Court KOs Teacher Who Nixed Drug Test
May. 15, 2000
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A former Georgia high school teacher fired for refusing to take a drug test after police using a drug-sniffing dog found marijuana in her car lost a Supreme Court appeal today.
The court, without comment, turned away the teacher's argument that the search was unlawful because it was not based on individual suspicion and because officers did not get a warrant before going inside her car.
Sherry Hearn, a social studies teacher at Windsor Forest High School in Savannah, sued the Chatham County school board after her 1996 firing.
In April of that year, the school's campus police officers conducted a random search for drugs, assisted by dog handlers from the county sheriff's department. The officers used the dogs to search classrooms and examine cars in the school's parking lot.
A dog indicated it smelled drugs in Hearn's car, which had an open window. Police said they entered the car and found a marijuana cigarette in the ashtray.
The teacher said police did not produce the marijuana cigarette and she was not charged with a crime. She contends authorities later received a call saying a student admitted planting the drugs.
Hearn was ordered to take a drug test under the school's anti-drug policy. She refused, although she said she passed a test at a commercial lab the next day.
Hearn was fired, and the state Board of Education upheld the firing.
She sued, saying the search of her car was illegal and that she could not be fired as the result of an unlawful search. Drug-sniffing dogs cannot be used in public school parking lots without individual suspicion, and the police should not have entered her car without a warrant, the lawsuit said.
A federal judge and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against her.
In the appeal acted on today, Hearn's lawyers said public employees cannot be fired for refusing to take a drug test when the suspicion of drug use was based on unlawfully seized evidence.
The school district's lawyers said dogs can be used to sniff cars without violating the Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which bans unreasonable searches. They also said a drug dog alert creates enough suspicion to allow police to enter a car.
The case is Hearn vs. Savannah Board of Education, 99-1477.
On the Net: For the appeals court ruling: http://www.uscourts.gov./links.html and click on 11th Circuit.