Discrimination, harassment claims
James Johnson, an addiction counselor assistant at New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), filed a disability discrimination suit under the ADA against his employer. He claimed that because he was a recovering alcoholic, he was discriminated against and harassed.
Johnson alleges that he was passed over for a promotion, denied a transfer and assigned jobs “nobody wants to do,” because of his disability.
Johnson said he received negative performance evaluations because of his alcoholism, which created a hostile work environment.
Not a disability
The plaintiff’s claim failed for two reasons. The first was that Johnson couldn’t prove a connection between the alleged harassment and his alcoholism. In fact, the plaintiff couldn’t even show that OASAS was aware of his condition.
But the second — and more important — reason Johnson’s claim failed was that he couldn’t prove his alcoholism was considered a disability under the ADA.
To meet the ADA’s definition of a disability, the plaintiff would’ve had to show that:
- he suffered from a physical or mental impairment that substantially limited one or more major life activity
- he had a record of such impairment, and
- the company regarded him as having that impairment.
It wasn’t enough to support his claim that Johnson considered himself a recovering alcoholic.
The court said:
“Although alcoholism is considered an impairment under the ADA … more than a physical or mental impairment is required to satisfy the definition of a disability.”
This case is important for employers because it shows that the bar is set fairly high for an employee to prove that they have a protected disability and that an ADA violation occurred.
Cite: Johnson v. New York State Office of Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Services, Dist. Crt. S.D. NY, No. 16-cv-9769, 3/13/18.