Best Ohio Disability Discrimination Attorney Answer: Am I protected under the ADA if I am a recovering alcoholic? Can my employer fire or demote me for having a problem with alcohol even if I am not drinking on the job? What type of lawyer do I need to sue my employer for ADA violation?
Here at Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, our employment attorneys receive numerous inquiries from employees that are either recovering from an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol or recently disclosed to their employer that they are suffering from a drug or alcohol addiction. Many of these employees assume that since a definite stigma exists in society against those struggling with drugs or alcohol, the law does not protect them. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Ohio’s counterpart, R.C. § 4112.02(A) offers protection to employees that are either recovering from an addiction to drugs and alcohol or employees that are currently struggling with addiction. As our employment discrimination lawyers have blogged about before, while workers are not protected under the ADA while currently using drugs and alcohol, employees who are not using and recovering from substance abuse or participating in a drug abuse recovery program, or wrongfully perceived as engaging in alcohol or drug abuse are protected by the ADA. (See Top Disability Discrimination Lawyer Reply: Is Drug And Alcohol Addiction Covered By The ADA?; Is Alcoholism A Disability Under The ADA? Top Disability Discrimination Attorney Reply)
A recent disability discrimination jury verdict from the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas reaffirmed the ADA’s protection of employees struggling with addiction. A truck driver reported to his employer, North Carolina-based Old Dominion Freight Line Inc., that he was suffering from alcoholism. The driver voluntarily told a supervisor that he was in treatment for alcoholism and was attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Despite the fact that the driver did not drink while on the job and had no accidents or incidence in his over five years of employment, Old Dominion summarily suspended and eventually terminated the driver’s employment.
The driver was terminated due to the fact that Old Dominion had a “no-return” policy for any drivers found to be suffering from alcoholism. In other words, any driver that was found to be suffering from alcoholism, even if he or she was in treatment, could not ever drive for Old Dominion. Old Dominion’s policy failed to even consider the possibility of an accommodation to deal with a driver’s alcoholism.
The driver filed suit after his wrongful termination, claiming that Old Dominion discriminated against him based on his disability, alcohol addiction. The judge rejected Old Dominion’s argument that its “no return” policy was justified because alcoholics could relapse and the company claimed it could not properly monitor its drivers to make sure a relapse didn’t occur. The court determined that the “no return” policy was unlawful under the ADA because the ADA requires that employers perform “an individualized assessment” when an employee has a disability that the employer claims poses a threat to public safety:
In order to make out a prima facie case under the ADA, the [employee] must show:
- that Grams has a disability within the meaning of the ADA;
- that Grams was qualified to perform the essential function of his job, either with or without reasonable accommodation; and
- that Grams suffered adverse employment actions because of his disability.
Old Dominion first contends that the [disability discrimination complaint] failed to plead facts sufficient to support a finding that Grams’ alcoholism is a disability. The Court disagrees. “Disability” within the meaning of the ADA includes being regarded as having an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)(C). Working is a major life activity. 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(A). The … Complaint alleges that Old Dominion immediately suspended Grams from driving upon hearing his report of alcoholism, told him he would never be allowed to drive for the company again, and terminated him when he failed to obtain private outpatient treatment for the condition.
While no one will argue that a truck driver who drinks on the job is a threat to public safety, companies are not allowed to discriminate and fail their obligations under the ADA simply because an employee has a history of alcoholism or is in treatment for alcoholism. The jury in the case agreed with the judge that the “no return policy” was unlawful and awarded the driver over $119,000 in damages as a result of the discriminatory termination of the driver’s employment.
If you have been targeted and unfairly treated at work because you are dealing with alcoholism or other addictions, you should immediately contact an attorney. Despite the stigma attached to those who are battling addiction, the law absolutely protects you from being summarily terminated or otherwise mistreated as a result of 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 866-797-6040. The best option is not to wait. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting disabled employees’ rights under ADA and Ohio employment law.
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