Employer Cleared of Bias against Employee with Drinking Problem

November 23, 2010 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – A New Jersey appellate court has cleared a county employer of discrimination charges against a senior electrician who had his driver’s license suspended after two DWI arrests.

The appellate court said a lower court judge was right in determining that the employee had not presented sufficient proof of alcoholism or that he was perceived by his employer as an alcoholic. According to the appellate opinion, the lower court “recognized that a person who at times has had problems with alcohol is not necessarily an alcoholic and that a claim of alcoholism cannot be sustained absent expert testimony.”  

However, the appellate court assumed that Kurt Stevenson pled and provided sufficient evidence that he was perceived to be an alcoholic by his employer when considering his claim that his disability was a motivating factor in the county’s decision to promote a new electrician to a supervisor position rather than Stevenson.   

The court found that, on earlier occasions, rather than discriminate, Cape May County Board of Freeholders actually accommodated Stevenson when he lost his driving privileges for a significant period of time. Stevenson argued that his employer harbored a discriminatory intent, which surfaced when the new electrician was permanently promoted to the supervisor position and he was told by managers that he did not get the position because of his alcohol problem.  

The court noted that since Stevenson’s driving privileges were suspended, his ability to fully perform the functions of supervising electrician was compromised, and found that the suspension of his driving privileges was a legitimate factor for the employer to consider in determining its need and there is no evidence in the record to support the contention the county harbored unlawful intent when it made its decision.  

The court’s opinion is here.