By Jonathan Stempel


(Reuters) - A high school run by the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago on Wednesday defeated an appeal by seven students who claimed that its drug testing program, in which they received false positive results for cocaine, was racially discriminatory.


By a 3-0 vote, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the six African-American students and one white student failed to show that Marian Catholic High School's drug tests violated federal civil rights laws.


Each student at Marian Catholic, located in Chicago Heights, Illinois, is randomly tested for illegal drugs at least once a year, and those testing positive could face sanctions ranging from counseling to expulsion.


The students said the school and Omega Laboratories, which analyzed the test results, knew that hair of African-Americans and hair products used by African-Americans raised the potential for false positives, yet refused to change their protocols.


Writing for the Chicago-based appeals court, however, Chief Judge Diane Wood said that even if one assumed that Omega's techniques were poor, that was a "far cry" from showing that the tests were systematically biased.

"We readily accept the proposition that errors can creep into test results," but this does not show racial discrimination unless distinctions based on race "explain what is going on," Wood wrote. "The operative complaint in this case fails to meet this burden."

Wednesday's decision upheld a May 2016 ruling by U.S. District Judge Manish Shah in Chicago.

Mary Grieb, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Andrew Kopon, a lawyer for the school and Omega, said in an interview the decision shows that Marian Catholic did not discriminate.

The case is L.P. et al v Marian Catholic High School et al, 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 16-2856.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bill Trott)