Court Rejects Police Chief ADA Claim Based On Alcoholism.

Kane County Forest Preserve District Police Chief Charles Budde drove home from an event at the Moose Lodge after consuming four or five glasses of wine.  After rear-ending another car and sending its occupants to the hospital, Budde was found to have a blood alcohol level of .23, nearly three times the legal limit in Illinois.   

The Forest Preserve District terminated Budde, listing several reasons for the decision, including, the inability to perform his job due to the suspension of his driving privileges.  At the time of termination, Budde had not yet been convicted of a DUI charge, but his license had been revoked as a result of the accident.

Claiming that alcoholism was a disability, Budde sued the district under the Americans with Disabilities Act alleging the Forest Preserve District discriminated against him because of his disability when it fired him, failed to accommodate his alcoholism and retaliated against him for requesting a reasonable accommodation. 

The federal court in Chicago rejected Budde’s claims and granted summary judgment for the District.  Budde appealed to the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which affirmed the federal court’s decision rejecting Budde’s lawsuit.  Budde v. Kane County Forest Preserve, No. 09-2040 (7th Cir. Mar. 4, 2010).

In order to prevail on an ADA discrimination claim, a plaintiff must first establish that he is a “qualified individual with a disability.”   A “qualified individual with a disability” is someone who (1) satisfies the requisite skill, experience, education and other job-related requirements of his employment position, and (2) can perform the essential functions of the position held or desired, with or without reasonable accommodation.  29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(M). 

The Court of Appeals ruled that Budde’s claim failed because, as a result of his misconduct, he could not perform essential job functions in that he (1) failed to comply with universal workplace rules (e.g., prohibition on officers being publicly intoxicated or violating public laws) and (2) he could not perform an essential j0b function (e.g., operate a motor vehicle due to his suspended driver’s license).

The Court of Appeals added that “Budde’s inability to operate a motor vehicle is not the result of his disability; it is a consequence of choosing to drive a car after consuming four or five glasses of wine.”  

With respect to the issue of whether it was appropriate for the employer to take action and terminate Budde before there had even been a criminal conviction on a DUI charge, the Court pointed to one of its prior cases, Pernice v. City of Chicago, 237 F.3d 783, 785 (7th Cir. 2001).  In Pernice, the Court held that “[v]iolation of a workplace rule, even if it is caused by a disability, is no defense to discipline up to and including termination.”   Relying on Pernice, the Court observed that where “the misconduct at issue involves a plaintiff’s off-duty criminal behavior, an employer is not required to wait for the outcome of a criminal adjudication and/or have proof beyond a reasonable doubt before it can impose discipline.”   As such, the Court of Appeals held that the termination of Budde did not violate the ADA.