A post about David Crosby, alcohol, and the ADA

April 2, 2014
By Eric B. Meyer on April 2, 2014 7:00 AM | | Comments

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On Monday, it was public urination.

Yesterday, we had indecent proposals.

And today, the blogging gods, in which I hold a sincerely-held belief, serve me up this federal court opinion about an alcoholic named David Crosby -- not that David Crosby, but still --  who sued his former employer for supposedly violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, as a result of his termination of employment after a 30-day stint in rehab.

Oh, sweet child! Someone catch me; I do believe I have the vapors.

Let us rejoice in the bounty together, after the jump...

* * *

Alcoholism is generally a disability.

Under the ADA, the term "disability" is broadly defined. 

What matters is that the impairment substantially limits a major life activity. What doesn't matter are the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures," including such things as therapy, medication, or reasonable accommodations.

How does that relate to alcoholism. Well, in our case, the plaintiff, David Crosby, required a one-month leave of absence to deal with his alcoholism. At the beginning of his inpatient treatment, he was evaluated as having significant functional impairments. Plus, he couldn't work, which is a major life activity. Then, after completing rehab, he later relapsed.

Sounds like an impairment affecting major life activities to me; dude is disabled.

But, just because a disabled employee is fired doesn't mean that the employer has violated the law.

The ADA prohibits employers from taking adverse employment actions because of an employee's disability. In this particular case, the defendant claimed that it fired the plaintiff because he drove without a license for two days. However, the plaintiff countered with evidence that the employer had cut non-alcoholics slack for the same driving offenses.

Plus, the Plaintiff could demonstrate that several other drivers had their licenses suspended for driving while intoxicated, and yet they were retained by the employer in warehouse positions.

Thus, there was enough evidence to suspect that the plaintiff's alcoholism motivated his termination. And the court denied the employer's motion for summary judgment. David Crosby will have his day in court!

So, how do you deal with an alcoholic employee?

Carefully.

While alcoholism may be a disability and, therefore, may trigger an obligation on the part of the employer to reasonably accommodate that disability, an employer can discipline, discharge or deny employment to an alcoholic whose use of alcohol adversely affects job performance or conduct. An employer also may prohibit drinking booze at work.

For more guidance on alcoholism and its effect in the workplace, check out this guidance from the EEOC.