Brief Fact Summary.
The respondent contends that the New York City Transit Authority’s refusal to employ persons who use methadone violates the Equal Protection Clause.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
If a policy 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.
If the constitutional conception of equal protection of the laws means anything, it must at the very least mean that a bare desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot constitute a legitimate governmental interest.View Full Point of Law
The New York City Transit Authority refuses to employ persons who use methadone. The Transit Authority (TA) operates the subway system and certain bus lines in the New York City. It employees about 47,000 persons, of whom many 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 has been used legitimately in several ways such as a pain killer. About 40,000 persons receive methadone maintenance treatment in New York City, of whom about 26,000 participate in the five major public programs. The sole purpose of all these programs is to treat the addiction of persons who have been using heroin for at least two years. The evidence indicates that methadone is an effective cure for the physical aspects of heroin addiction.
Does the New York City Transit Authority’s refusal to employ persons who use methadone violate the Equal Protection Clause?
No. 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 sub-parts of the classification as it is with respect to the classification as a whole.
The blanket exclusion of only some 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 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 this proffered objectives is the type of invidious choice forbidden by the Equal Protection Clause.
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. The Court 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. 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 public choice made by that branch of Government vested with the power to make such choices.