• Workplace Rules and Job Requirements Justify Employers' Termination Decision in Face of ADA Claims Based on Alcoholism
  • April 23, 2010
  • Law Firm: Hunton & Williams LLP - New York Office
  • Establishing work rules and job descriptions for employees not only provides employees with a better understanding of job expectations, but also helps protect employers from liability for discrimination and other employment-related claims.  In Budde v. Kane County Preserve, No. 09-2040 (7th Cir. March 4, 2010), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s ruling that the ADA does not protect an employee who violates workplace rules from discipline up to and including termination, even if the violation is caused by a disability.

    In Budde, Charles Budde, the police chief for the Kane County Forest Preserve District (the “District”) in Kane County, Illinois, caused a car accident and injured two people when he drove after consuming several glasses of wine.  As a result, Budde was charged with driving under the influence and his license was suspended while the criminal process was pending.  The District fired Budde before the criminal process was complete, explaining in a letter that his termination was due to “a pattern of errors in judgment on [his] part,” inability to perform his job “due to the suspension of [his] license,” and “engaging in conduct that is below the standard expectation for [his] position.”

    In response to his termination, Budde sued the District under the ADA claiming, among other things, discrimination based on his alleged disability of alcoholism.  The U.S. District for the Northern District of Illinois granted summary judgment to the District, finding that Budde was fired for misconduct, not his alleged disability.

    In making its decision, the district court further reasoned that, even if Budde did have a disability, he could not satisfy the ADA requirement of being “a qualified individual with a disability.”  The ADA regulations provide that a “qualified individual” is an individual who, despite his or her disability, “satisfies the requisite skill, experience, education and other job-related requirements” of the position and who “can perform the essential functions” of the position with or without a reasonable accommodation.  The district court found that Budde was not a “qualified individual with a disability” because he violated “clearly established work rules” when he drove under the influence of alcohol.  These work rules included the District’s Standard Operating Procedures, which prohibit officers from being publicly intoxicated and prohibit employees from violating public laws.  The district court stated that the ADA does not “protect[ ] alcoholics from the consequences of their own misconduct.”

    In affirming the district court’s decision, the Seventh Circuit agreed that Budde’s unlawful activity violated workplace rules and made him unqualified to perform the position of police chief.  In addition, the Seventh Circuit determined that Budde also was no longer qualified for the position because the “ability to operate a vehicle” was an essential job function of the position and the District provided the police chief with a car to use at all times.  The Court found that “Budde’s inability to operate a vehicle is not the result of his disability; it is a consequence of choosing to drive his car after consuming four or five glasses of wine.”

    The decision in Budde tackles the complex issues of whether an individual with alcoholism is protected under the ADA.  The importance of this decision, however, lies in the Seventh Circuit’s determination that Budde could not satisfy the threshold requirement of being a qualified individual with a disability under the ADA because of his failure to follow the District’s workplace rules and his failure to satisfy the job requirements of the position at issue.