On Monday, an Arkansas federal judge ruled that Old Dominion Freight Line Inc.’s policy of not allowing alcoholic truck drivers to return to the job, even after undergoing rehabilitative treatment, is unlawful and violates the American’s With Disabilities Act.
In 2011, the EEOC filed suit against Old Dominion on behalf of former driver Charles Grams, who was fired after he confessed to a supervisor that he was a recovering alcoholic and member of Alcoholics Anonymous.
As a result of his confession, Grams, who had been employed with Old Dominion for 5 years and had never had “any major accidents or incidents,” was told he would never be allowed to drive for the company again. He was offered a non-driving, part-time dock job but was told he would have to undergo an evaluation and treatment.
The treatment the company required Grams to undergo was not fully covered by insurance, and Grams couldn’t afford to cover the difference.
Grams was fired from Old Dominion in July 2009.
When Old Dominion fired Grams, the company was in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, the EEOC said.
“Alcoholism is a recognized disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and disability discrimination violates this federal law. The EEOC said that the company violated both the ADA and the Americans With Disabilities Act Amendment Act of 2008 (ADAAA) by conditioning reassignment to non-driving positions on the enrollment in an alcohol treatment program. In addition, the EEOC argued that Old Dominion’s policy that bans any driver who self-reports alcohol abuse from ever driving again also violates the ADA,” the EEOC stated.
District Judge Jimm Larry Hendren sided with Grams and the EEOC.
“While the court appreciates Old Dominion’s safety concerns, its no-return policy — which fails to even consider the possibility of accommodation — cannot be justified either on public safety concerns or business necessity considerations,” Judge Hendren wrote.
While Judge Hendren agreed with Old Dominion’s decision to require Grams to seek treatment and evaluation, he and a jury ultimately sided with the EEOC, stating that the fact that Grams was offered a non-driving, part-time job as a means to get rid of him as an employee.
“Jurors could find that Grams had refused to get help beyond AA because it would be a wasted investment, considering he would never get his job back even if he did, the ruling said,” Law 360 reported.
“The ADA mandates that persons with disabilities have an equal opportunity to achieve in the workplace. Old Dominion’s policy and practice of never returning an employee who self-reports an alcohol problem to a driving position violates that law,” said Katharine Kores, director of the EEOC’s Memphis District Office, whose jurisdiction includes Arkansas. “While the EEOC agrees that an employer’s concern regarding safety on our highways is a legitimate issue, an employer can both ensure safety and comply with the ADA.”