When is Alcoholism Classified as a Legal "Disability"?

Alcoholism is a serious illness that afflict many New Yorkers. Under certain circumstances, alcoholism does qualify as a protected disability under federal and state employment laws. This does not mean that an employer cannot discipline or even terminate an employee who abuses alcohol. If an employee is in treatment or recovering from alcohol addiction, the employer may be required to make certain “reasonable accommodations” or refrain from engaging in any conduct that creates a hostile work environment.

Manhattan Judge Rejects Self-Represented Plaintiff's Lawsuit

As with any serious physical or mental impairment, it is critical to provide medical documentation of your alcohol addiction if you plan to file an employment discrimination complaint against your employer. Also keep in mind that under disability discrimination laws, your employer is not (and cannot be) a mind-reader. You have the responsibility to inform your employer of your condition and to request any reasonable accommodation.

To put it another way, you cannot just show up in court and declare that your employer discriminated against you because you are an alcoholic. There needs to be a clear paper trail documenting the steps you took to inform your employer about your condition and their response. You must also present a court with sufficient factual allegations to assess the validity of your claim.

Here is a recent example from New York City of a plaintiff who failed to do this. Like many unsuccessful litigants, this plaintiff represented himself and did not engage the services of an experienced New York employment discrimination attorney. While courts are required to “liberally” construe complaints filed by unrepresented plaintiffs, there are still certain minimum pleading standards that must be met.

In this case, the plaintiff's self-written complaint described himself as a “recovering alcoholic” working for a state agency, which is the defendant. He alleged that the defendant took a number of “adverse actions” against him due to his status as an alcoholic. He further accused the defendant of illegal retaliation after he objected to certain policies implemented by the defendant.

The problem, according to the federal judge assigned to the case, was the plaintiff never alleged any facts “indicating that his supervisors…regarded him as having a disability or even that they were aware of his alleged alcoholism.” Nor did the plaintiff explain how his alcoholism imposed a “substantial limitation on one or more major life activities,” which is the legal threshold for a protected disability. As the judge explained, merely describing yourself as a “recovering alcoholic” does not mean you are legally disabled. For this and other reasons, the judge dismissed the plaintiff's lawsuit.

Speak With a New York City Employment Discrimination Lawyer Today

Employment discrimination is a serious problem. It requires a serious response. You should not attempt to deal with your employer's discriminatory actions on your own. A qualified New York employment attorney can thoroughly investigate your claim and help you build a strong case that will hold up in court. If you have suffered due to illegal discrimination and need advice on how to proceed, contact the Law Offices of Nisar Law Group, P.C., at 646.760.6493 today.


Related Posts
  • Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Workplace Rights Read More
  • Second Circuit Confirms "But-For" Standard in Disability Discrimination Cases Read More
  • EEOC Releases Figures on Workplace Discrimination Charges Filed in 2018 Read More