August 24, 2009 was anything but a typical day at the Archer Daniels Midland's Company (ADM) Columbus, Nebraska plant. Approximately 82 individual construction workers placed at ADM, by Casey Industrial, Inc., to build a next generation coal power plant, were greeted with announcements of a drug screen and tool box search. While tool box searches or providing a urine specimen is not uncommon for those in the construction industry, what actually occurred went far beyond what was expected.
From about 7 a.m. to 12 noon workers, and Domina Law Group Clients, were unable to eat or drink anything other than water and could only have water with permission and while being monitored. The workers were held within an ADM break room on site, with ADM security personnel present, and escorted to and from two bathrooms were the drug testing procedures were to occur and then to the toolbox search and inspection. Once inside the bathrooms workers, males and females, were told to either lift up their shirts and undershirts to their chin or in some instances remove them completely, drop their pants, including underwear, to their knees or ankles, and in some cases bend over and/or lift their genitalia to satisfy the security guard that no drugs or synthetic urine was on their person. After the strip search and inspection, workers were observed while attempting to urinate to provide the urine specimen. Some individuals had to go through this process two or three times as they were unable to supply a specimen while being watched.
Although defense witnesses testified plaintiffs were "free" to leave and would simply have been "escorted" off-site – it was clear refusing to participate in the "drug screen" and search was not a "choice" and would mean losing their current employment, risking being deemed as a drug user, risking a failure to test being deemed a positive drug test, risking being placed on ADM's "denied access" list whereby the workers would have been denied access to all ADM locations worldwide, and risking being left without means to travel back to the various parts of the country the construction workers called home.
Casey Industrial CEO Bart Wear said he was "saddened" but what had occurred. The workers were humiliated and embarrassed by the invasion of privacy and personal rights but were too scared to sue a powerful international company and worried about repercussions. Although nearly 50 had initially expressed interest in trying to take on ADM - ultimately a handful of workers brave enough to file suit did so on January 5, 2010. After years of battles just to get the opportunity for a trial, Defendant ADM twice requested trial continuances, a jury was finally seated on January 28, 2013 in Platte County District Court Nebraska.
ADM claimed the defense of consent and argued Plaintiff's expressly consented to the type of search and inspection procedures in writing via employee acknowledgement forms and consent forms signed immediately prior to the "drug testing" even though none of the prerequisites allowing a directly observed drug test were triggered by any Plaintiffs behavior. ADM also argued Plaintiff's impliedly or apparently consented by going through with the requests of those conducting the body searches.
Several Plaintiffs and other ADM witnesses testified via pre-recorded video testimony or via prior depositions as most witnesses now live across the country. Unfortunately, the inability to travel 1000 or more miles back to Columbus to trial and take time off of work and away from minor children and incur further expenses of food and lodging made it impossible for many plaintiffs to appear live at trial.
On February 1, 2013, after a four-day trial and nearly 8 hours of deliberation a jury of 7 men and 5 women reached 10-2 Verdicts against ADM and for seven Plaintiffs on their invasion of privacy claims.
"Our clients are relieved and thankful a jury made up of individuals in ADM's backyard had the courage to stand up for them and hard-working folks around the country with these verdicts. Just because you are an hourly employee and easily replaceable in the eyes of powerful corporations doesn't mean you can be stripped of your dignity or have your right to privacy violated without consequence," stated Brian Jorde, the trial lawyer from Domina Law Group that handled the case for Plaintiffs. Added Jorde, "a Jury is the only real chance left for individuals to right wrongs against corporations."
ADM decided not to appeal the verdicts. ADM is a Fortune 100 Company ranking in 2012 as the 28th largest company in the United States in terms of market valuation.