Trucking Company Fired Pickup and Delivery Driver Who Self-Reported Alcohol Abuse, Federal Agency Charged
FORT SMITH, Ark. -- A federal jury has found that Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., a trucking company headquartered in Thomasville, N.C., violated federal disability discrimination law when it denied a reasonable accommodation to a truck driver who self-reported alcohol abuse and then fired him, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced today.
According to the EEOC's suit, the former driver self-reported an alcohol problem under the company's "Open Door Policy" seeking assistance from Old Dominion. The driver and local management were unaware that the company maintained an unwritten policy of not allowing drivers who self-report alcohol abuse to return to driving. Although Old Dominion would never return the driver to a driving position, the company asserted that it accommodated the driver by offering him a part-time dock position at half the pay and no health benefits. Old Dominion later charged the driver with job abandonment and terminated him in June 2009.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC filed suit (Civil Action No.2:11-CV-02153 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas) against Old Dominion on Aug. 16, 2011 after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
The jury returned a verdict on Thursday afternoon for the EEOC and awarded the former truck driver $119,612 in back pay.
"The EEOC has always maintained that Old Dominion had a right to ensure that its drivers comply with DOT Regulations so as not to endanger the public," said General Counsel David Lopez. "At the same time, the ADA requires that Old Dominion make an individualized determination as to whether the driver could return to driving and provide a reasonable accommodation of leave to its drivers for them to obtain treatment. To maintain a blanket policy that any driver who self-reports alcohol abuse could never return to driving -- with no individualized assessment to determine if the driver could safely be returned to driving -- violates the ADA."
EEOC Lead Trial Attorney Pamela Dixon and Trial Attorney Markeisha Savage, who tried the case, jointly said, "We are extremely pleased the jury reached the conclusion that Old Dominion could ensure that its drivers comply with DOT safety requirements and at the same time comply with the ADA. Old Dominion's unwritten policy of never returning drivers to driving who self-report alcohol abuse actually endangered the public, because testimony by both a current and former driver indicated they would be reluctant to report a problem because of company policy."
Regional Attorney Faye A. Williams said, "There is always a lesson learned from trials. This case demonstrates the importance of employers training their management officials on the company's obligations, including reasonable accommodation, under the ADA. In this case, a nationwide trucking company with thousands of drivers failed to train its employers on a key requirement under the ADA -- reasonable accommodation."
According to its website, Old Dominion Freight Line employs more than 15,000 people globally with service centers throughout the United States.
The EEOC's Memphis District Office has jurisdiction over Arkansas, Tennessee, and parts of Mississippi.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.