According to a press release from the EEOC, a federal jury has ordered Old Dominion Freight Lines, Inc., to pay a former truck driver $119,612 for failing to provide a “reasonable accommodation to a truck driver who self-reported alcohol abuse and then fired him.”
The EEOC states that the truck driver self-reported that he had an ‘alcohol problem‘ through Old Dominion’s company “Open Door Policy.” The driver was reportedly seeking Old Dominion’s help, however, the driver and the company’s local management were not aware of a the company’s unwritten policy that prohibits drivers who self-report alcohol abuse to continue driving.
Instead of firing the driver, Old Dominion says the company offered the driver a job as a part-time dock worker for half the pay and no health benefits, however, Old Dominion later accused the driver of job abandonment and terminate him.
“Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No.2:11-CV-02153 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas) against Old Dominion on Aug. 16, 2011 after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process,” the EEOC states.
“The EEOC has always maintained that Old Dominion had a right to ensure that its drivers comply with DOT Regulations so as not to endanger the public,” said General Counsel David Lopez. “At the same time, the ADA requires that Old Dominion make an individualized determination as to whether the driver could return to driving and provide a reasonable accommodation of leave to its drivers for them to obtain treatment. To maintain a blanket policy that any driver who self-reports alcohol abuse could never return to driving — with no individualized assessment to determine if the driver could safely be returned to driving — violates the ADA.”
“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 said in an earlier statement.
On Thursday, a jury agreed with the EEOC and ordered Old Dominion to pay the truck driver $119,612 in back pay.
“We are extremely pleased the jury reached the conclusion that Old Dominion could ensure that its drivers comply with DOT safety requirements and at the same time comply with the ADA. Old Dominion’s unwritten policy of never returning drivers to driving who self-report alcohol abuse actually endangered the public, because testimony by both a current and former driver indicated they would be reluctant to report a problem because of company policy,” said EEOC Lead Trial Attorney Pamela Dixon and Trial Attorney Markeisha Savage, who jointly tried the case.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.