Monday, October 5, 2009

Blacked Out Drunk and the ADA

Two women accused Sgt. Clinton Knowles of engaging in what he himself labels "inappropriate and obnoxious behavior." One woman says he "smacked her on the butt" and the other claims he was grabbing her arms and thighs. Not surprisingly, this incident is at the center of a lawsuit... amazingly though, it's Sgt. Knowles who is the plaintiff!

10 Connects reports that Knowles is suing his employer under the ADA. You see, he has a perfectly umm, good (or awful) explanation for his behavior... he was "suffering from alcohol related black-outs." Knowles was terminated in part because of the groping incident of which he claims he has no recollection. Knowles alleges his employer failed to accommodate his disability, alcoholism, by delaying his entry into the "Employee Assistance Program" prior to the incident and his termination.

The employer's decision to terminate Knowles is likely protected by the ADA which provides:
"[Employers] may hold an employee... who is an alcoholic to the same qualification standards for employment or job performance and behavior that such entity holds other employees, even if any unsatisfactory performance or behavior is related to... alcoholism."
42 U.S.C. sec. 12114(c)(4). Knowles' Complaint seems to rely on the employer's failure to accommodate his alcoholism, however, rather than its decision to terminate. Some courts have also relied on the quoted statute for the premise that "employers need not make any reasonable accommodations for employees who are... alcoholics." Den Hartog v. Wasatch Academy, 129 F.3d 1076 (10th Cir. 1997); and earlier this year in Nanos v. City of Stamford, 609 F.Supp. 2d 260 (D.Conn. 2009).

Regardless of how this case turns out, it may already have a happy ending. The Complaint alleges that for the last year and a half, Sgt. Knowles "has remained sober and in faith-based counseling."

Hat Tip to Overlawyered, where I first heard of this case.