An interesting test of whether a policeman’s rights were violated when he was fired for driving drunk in an unmarked police car while off-duty is currently taking place in Oregon. As the San Francisco Chronicle explains, Jason Servo is suing well, a bunch of people, saying that his rights were violated because he suffers from alcoholism. He has also been stripped of his police certification and says he was denied due process as well.
I’m not sure how many people know that alcoholism is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. I sure didn’t before I started researching this case. (It took me awhile in 2008 to let it sink in that thanks to the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, treatment for substance abuse must now be covered in group healthcare plans at a level equal to medical and surgical benefits.)
But back to the case. Servo pleaded guilty and entered a treatment program after the January accident. (He and his car ended up in a ditch.) One of his lawyers said the police department should have worked with Servo because he has a disease and should not have fired him, and the lawsuit alleges that the firing was due to budget cuts. The Chronicle article notes that “The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission … provides an example of how an alcoholic can justly be fired, and it's similar to the Servo case.
In its example, a federal police officer is involved in an accident for which he is charged with drunken driving. About a month later, he gets a termination notice stating that his conduct makes it inappropriate for him to continue. The officer says the arrest made him realize he is an alcoholic and that he is obtaining treatment. According to the EEOC, the employer may proceed with the firing.”
There’s a difference, however. The police officer in the example was on duty and Servo wasn’t.
This reminds me of the time a colleague I was working with at a high-tech company told me that another worker actually kept a bottle of vodka in a drawer and was constantly taking sips. I believe he was given the option of attending a program. I think the woman who told me was the man’s officemate, but after so many years it’s hard to remember. If it was true, that was a pretty progressive company, because there was no legislation like we have today to support that worker.
The Christian Science Monitor, in printing the same Associated Press article, asks, in the headline about the case: Can he win? I’d love to hear from some legal analysts what his chances are, and I’d like to read what addiction specialists think. And then you wonder: Are police officers held to a higher standard in some cases because they’re charged with protecting the public?
One thing is for sure—this is another story that highlights alcoholism and the workplace and gets people talking about it. That’s one way to make progress.