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Delta flight attendant's claim against drug test lab upheld

An appeals court affirms Yasuko Ishikawa's $400,000 verdict against Lab One, which claimed she cheated on a test


Lab: Test standards violated

A federal appeals court Friday upheld a $400,000 verdict for a Portland-based Delta Airlines flight attendant who was fired after a testing laboratory incorrectly said she had cheated on a mandatory drug test.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the federal jury's July 2001 decision against Lab One Inc. The flight attendant, Yasuko Ishikawa, 42, sued Delta and Lab One after she was fired in October 1999. She insisted she never took drugs and didn't alter her urine sample as the lab report claimed.

Ishikawa was reinstated, and the case against Delta eventually was dismissed. However, the jury found that Lenexa, Kan.-based Lab One was negligent when it incorrectly ran a "validity test" on Ishikawa's urine sample. The test is used to ensure that a sample is human urine and came from the person submitting it. Drug users often switch their samples or alter them to avoid detection.

Ishikawa's Lab One urine sample -- the second half of the original, which is frozen and saved -- was tested at another lab as part of the lawsuit. She passed the validity test, and no drugs were present.

Ishikawa was among four flight attendants and a pilot Delta fired in 1999 based on the Lab One tests, which the airline claimed were 100 percent accurate. Labor unions for flight attendants and pilots protested the firings.

The unions complained to the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Transportation Department about the scientific legitimacy of the validity tests. The government agencies require testing of millions of transportation workers each year in the name of public safety.

A review of laboratory testing procedures commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2000 found that Lab One and other labs had not followed government standards in the way they conducted the validity tests. About 300 tests, including more than 80 from Lab One, were thrown out nationwide.

John J. Weber, who represents Lab One, said no decision has been made about appealing the ruling.

Ishikawa still works for Delta but has relocated to New York, said her attorney, Mark McDougal. -- Mark Larabee