Friday, September 28, 2012

Alcohol Rehab - Eighth Time's the Charm? - COTW #111

You have to give the employee in this Case of the Week some credit; he recognized that he has an alcohol problem and is trying to address it. The employer also deserves some credit for generally supporting the employee in his struggle. However, Schmidt v. Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, 2012 WL 4414005 (Sept. 25, 2012) is a case about an employer who eventually said "enough is enough."

The plaintiff entered seven different rehabilitation programs for alcohol (and sometimes drug) dependency from 1999 to 2008. Unfortunately, none of the programs really worked. The employee had attendance problems resulting in a Last Chance Agreement (LCA). The employee once again entered rehab and was out of work, but this time he did not have approved leave. The employer terminated him, prompting an ADA (applying the ADAAA) lawsuit.

The Court understood the concerns of both the employer and the employee. Ultimately, however, the Court ruled in favor of the employer:
[T]he Court believes that its rulings above can, and should, be informed by the jurisprudence recognizing the untenable position presented by an employee who remains dependent on alcohol or drugs after repeated, unsuccessful rehabilitation attempts . . . . Although providing an employee with an opportunity to rehabilitate himself is consonant with both the law and the greater public good, there comes a point where demanding an employer to offer multiple, if not unlimited, opportunities for recovery veers outside the realm of reasonableness.
The Court had additional concerns, including whether the employee had actually requested an accommodation and whether any breakdown in the interactive process was actually the employer's fault.

The Court commended the employee for his efforts to address his problems. However, the employer won on summary judgment.

HT: The Legal Intelligencer - Pa. Turnpike Worker's Drunk Firing Suit Rejected.