Best Ohio Disability Discrimination Attorney Answer: Is it disability discrimination if my boss fired me for drinking on the job even though I’m an alcoholic? Is alcoholism ever considered a disability under the ADA? What should I do if my boss finds out that I’m a recovering alcoholic and then fired me?
Last winter was bitter cold, but not particularly snowy. By March 13, Jonathan Blazek, a snow plow driver for the City of Lakewood, could be fairly sure that he would not have a busy workday. Maybe that’s why he decided to take a liquid lunch during which he drank an entire 21-ounce bottle of Canadian Mist Whiskey. That’s about 14 shots, but I doubt Mr. Blazek was counting.
At a post-lunch meeting Blazek’s supervisor noticed he “was acting suspiciously,” “had bloodshot eyes and alcohol on his breath,” and was “in a euphoric type of mood.” So she brought him to the Police Station and asked him to take a Breathalyzer. He blew a .132, which is well above Ohio’s legal limit. After a disciplinary hearing during which Blazek admitted that he had drunk at work before, including “driving a snowplow under the influence during a snow storm,” Blazek was terminated.
The City of Lakewood had the right to fire Blazek, right? Blazek didn’t think so. He sued on a theory of disability employment discrimination. He alleged that the City had wrongfully terminated him because of his disability – alcoholism – and that they City had failed to make reasonable accommodations for his alcoholism as mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Ohio’s counterpart, R.C. § 4112.02(A).
So, Blazek sued for disability discrimination, and he lost. The Honorable Judge Patricia A. Gaughan in the Northern District Court for Ohio held:
Plaintiff’s only argument as to his termination is that he “received disparate treatment from other employees who were disciplined for alcohol-related incidents” in that at least 15 other such City employees (specifically identified by plaintiff) received Last Chance Agreements while plaintiff did not. The final element of the prima facie case “may also be satisfied by showing that similarly situated non-protected employees were treated more favorably.” … Moreover, as to the two employees who were given Last Chance Agreements under Yousefi’s direction, the factual circumstances were different. According to Yousefi, the one employee had not received his assignment for the day when he tested positive for alcohol. His position did not require a CDL and he never operated a city vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. As to the second employee, he tested positive for marijuana in a random drug screening and was not intoxicated at work. Therefore, the employees did not engage in the same conduct as plaintiff.
So, Blazek appealed.
This August, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (Ohio) held that Lakewood did, in fact, have the right to fire Mr. Blazek. (Blazek v City of Lakewood.) But the case wasn’t as straightforward as it seems.
Under the ADA, alcoholism can be considered a disability, and alcoholics are entitled to the protections afforded by the ADA. That means that an employer cannot fire an employee merely because that employee is an alcoholic. It also means that an employer has to make reasonable accommodations to the known limitations of an individual with a disability.
In Blazek’s case, the Sixth Circuit held that the City of Lakewood did not, in fact, fire Blazek because he was an alcoholic. Instead, the City fired him because he violated numerous policies governing his employment with the City, including a prohibition against drinking on the job, and these were “legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons” for firing Blazek. The Court also found that the City of Lakewood had not failed to accommodate Blazek’s disability because it wasn’t until after Blazek was terminated that the City learned that Blazek was an alcoholic and that he finally requested an accommodation. Specifically, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeal held:
The discrimination proscribed by the ADA includes “not making reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is an . . . employee, unless such covered entity can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of [its] business.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(5)(A). The ADA further provides that “‘reasonable accommodation’ may include . . . reassignment to a vacant position.” 42 U.S.C. § 12111(9)(B) …
We assume that Plaintiff was disabled and that a vacant non-driving position was available when he was terminated. Even with these elements established, Plaintiff’s claim falls on the ground that he did not request any accommodation from Defendant prior to his termination. The first time that Plaintiff raised the possibility of moving to a non-driving position was during his union grievance, several months after he was fired. “Because Plaintiff made no request for accommodation the district court properly found that [he] failed to create an issue of fact as to whether or not the Company failed to reasonably accommodate [him].”
What does all of this mean for you?
If you are an alcoholic or a recovering alcoholic, you are in a protected class and you cannot get fired solely because of your condition. However, being in a protected class doesn’t give you a free pass for bad behavior. If your boss has a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for firing you – like the City of Lakewood did – than your boss has done nothing illegal.
The ADA makes it your job – not your boss’s – to protect your rights. If you are an alcoholic or a recovering alcoholic and you expect your boss to offer you a reasonable accommodation, it’s up to you to tell your boss about your alcoholism. If you do tell your boss that you are an alcoholic and he fails to make an accommodation, then you might have a good claim. But if you sit on your hands and drink while on the job, like Mr. Blazek did, you will not be able to argue that your boss failed to accommodate your disability.
Having to live with a disability is difficult enough without worrying about the effect it may have on your job. If you are disabled or your employer perceives you as being disabled; and you have been fired, wrongfully terminated, discriminated against, demoted, wrongfully disciplined, denied wages, or even think that you might need a disability discrimination lawyer, then call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. Call our Ohio employment law attorneys at (216) 291-4744. The best option is not to wait. The Spitz Law Firm, and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting disabled employees’ rights under ADA and Ohio employment law.
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