Sentinel Offender Services has agreed to stop making probationers submit and pay for drug tests unless the company has a written court order for testing.
In a federal lawsuit filed in north Georgia, a consent order was signed Thursday, a day before a judge was to hear arguments about issuing a temporary injunction. The Southern Center for Human Rights filed a civil rights lawsuit against Sentinel on behalf of two Cleveland, Ga., women.
Rita Sanders Luse and Marianne Ligocki were charged in unrelated cases with the misdemeanor offense of driving on a suspended license. The two pleaded guilty to the charges in White County Probate Court. They were placed on 12 months of probation because they couldn’t pay fines in full on their court dates.
According to the lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, Sentinel employee Stacy McDowell-Black told Luse and Ligocki that they had to take drug tests or she would have them jailed for violating probation.
However, according to court documents, drug testing was not a condition of probation set by the judge for either woman.
The lawsuit, filed in February, accuses Sentinel of forcing people to undergo drug tests to earn higher fees that the company is not entitled to collect. Sentinel denies forcing any probationer to submit to a drug test not ordered by a court.
In Thursday’s consent order, neither side of the dispute concedes its position. However, Sentinel agreed to not require anyone sentenced to probation out of the White County Probate Court to submit to a
drug test unless the test is specifically authorized in a written court order.
The lawsuit is one of 15 federal lawsuits filed against Sentinel in Georgia, Florida and California. In addition, more than a dozen civil rights lawsuits have been filed against the private probation company in the Superior Courts of Richmond and Columbia counties since 2012.
In the first trial of the local lawsuits, a jury found in favor of Kathleen Hucks in February and awarded her $50,000 in damages and $125,000 in legal fees.