Old Dominion loses disability bias suit, ordered to pay $119k to driver who self-reported alcoholism

Old DominionA U.S. district court has ordered $119,612 in back pay to an ex-driver fired by Old Dominion Freight Line (No. 11 in the CCJ Top 250) after he self-reported alcohol abuse.

The Fort Smith, Ark., jury returned the verdict Jan. 16 after concluding the LTL carrier had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 2011, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit on behalf of the driver after failing to reach a voluntary settlement with the North Carolina-based company.

Old Dominion was not immediately available for comment.

The driver had worked for ODFL for five years without incident until 2009. That June, he reported his alcohol problem under Old Dominion’s “Open Door Policy” and sought assistance from the company.

On June 29, he began attending Alcoholics Anonymous. On July 1, the driver met with a DOT-certified Substance Abuse Professional, who indicated the employee “would participate in out-patient treatment and he could be returned to work.”

The driver and local management were unaware ODF had an unwritten policy of not allowing drivers who self-report alcohol abuse to return to driving, the EEOC reported.

The ADA recognizes alcoholism as a disability, and the U.S. Department of Transportation does not prevent employees who report themselves for alcohol abuse from returning to driving.

EEOC General Counsel David Lopez said motor carriers are required to make an individualized determination as to whether drivers could return to driving. Also, companies must provide a reasonable accommodation of leave to drivers for them to obtain treatment.

Old Dominion argued it had complied with the reasonable accommodation requirement because it had offered the driver a part-time dock position at half the pay and no health benefits. The carrier later charged the driver with job abandonment and terminated him in 2009.

The agency said the practice of prohibiting drivers who self-report alcohol abuse from return to driving “actually endangers the public.” Both an ex-driver and a current driver had testified of reluctance to report a problem because of this policy.