Worker Fired for Alcohol Use Lacks FMLA or ADA Claim, Court Affirms
Dana Ames, a five-year employee with Home Depot, worked without incident until she told the store manager that she had an alcohol problem and requested help through the company’s employee assistance program (EAP). Ames was put on administrative leave and was able to return to work once she had met all the requirements outlined in the EAP agreement. Approximately two months later, the employee was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, a violation of her EAP agreement. After several extensions to her leave and opportunities for treatment, Ames reported to work as scheduled, but under the influence of alcohol. After receiving the results from the alcohol test, the employer immediately decided to terminate her for violating the company’s substance abuse policy. However, before the discharge decision could be communicated to Ames, she checked into the hospital for one day and was ordered to seek treatment with an outpatient rehabilitation facility.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that although Ames had received treatment for alcoholism through the company’s EAP, she was not entitled to FMLA leave because she could not prove that she was “afflicted with a serious health condition.” In reaching this conclusion, the court reasoned that Ames’s alcohol problem did not require “inpatient” care, since she only had outpatient treatments, and did not involve “continuing treatment by a health provider,” since her condition did not involve a period of incapacity of more than three consecutive calendar days.
The plaintiff’s ADA claims failed because she could not show that her alcoholism constituted a “disability” that substantially limited any major life activity, especially since she asserted that her alcohol problem did not affect her work performance. Additionally, there was also no evidence that Home Depot refused to accommodate her condition because the company had tried to assist her by giving time off with pay and assistance through the EAP. The employer only terminated her because she violated the work rule prohibiting working under the influence of alcohol. The court made clear that employers “need not accommodate an alcoholic by overlooking such violations of workplace rules.” Ames v. Home Depot