Human Resources News & Insights

Man drives snowplow drunk, then sues employer under ADA

A recent case proves the unfortunate fact that employees will try to drag their employers through the legal system no matter how ridiculous their claims are. 

Case in point:

Jonathan Blazek was an employee for the City of Lakewood, OH. He worked SCMR — streets, construction, maintenance, and repair. He did a lot of leave pick-up, snow removal, road repairs and things of that nature.

His job required him to have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) to operate large vehicles — including snowplows.

One day, Blazek drank an entire bottle of Canadian Mist whisky — 14 shots worth — during his lunch break, despite admitting that he may have been assigned a driving job upon his return to work.

Thankfully, he wasn’t put behind the wheel.

Instead, his supervisor noticed Blazek was “acting suspiciously.” Then, upon noticing alcohol on Blazek’s breath, the supervisor drove him to the nearest police station to have his blood alcohol level checked.

A breathalyzer determined he had a 0.132 blood alcohol level — about 65% higher than Ohio’s legal driving limit, and more than 300% higher than the CDL limit.

The city charged him with multiple workplace policy violations:

  • Being intoxicated at work
  • Driving a city vehicle while intoxicated
  • Drinking at work, and
  • Possessing alcohol on city property.

Possessing and consuming alcohol on city property were both fireable offenses — even for first-time offenders.

Not the first time … not even close

The city held a pre-disciplinary hearing, during which Blazek admitted that he drank at work and drove city vehicles on a handful of occasions. He even admitted to driving a snowplow while intoxicated.

The hearing panel called his actions “completely irresponsible and dangerous,” and Blazek was terminated.

Blazek then turned around and filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming his termination amounted to disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Both a district court and an appeals court sided with the City of Lakewood and threw his case out.

Did his case have any merit?

How could an employee who openly admitted to driving a company vehicle multiple times while intoxicated possibly think his termination wasn’t legal?

His lawsuit alleged that alcoholism can be a disability that’s covered under the ADA, and the appeals court agreed.

He then went on to allege that since he was fired due to his alcoholism, his employer discriminated against him based on his disability. That’s where the court drew the line.

The court said his employer had clearly established a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating him: He’d violated workplace policies when it came to possessing and consuming alcohol — and he’d done it numerous times.

So the court then said it was up to Blazek to prove that the stated reason for his termination was just given to justify or mask the real reason for his termination, which he failed to do.

Case dismissed.

Lesson: While the ADA provides protections for a lot of disabilities — including alcoholism — it generally only does for those individuals whose problems with addiction don’t spill into the workplace. And it certainly doesn’t protect those who attempt to operate vehicles while intoxicated.

Cite: Blazek v. City of Lakewood

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