According to the EEOC's suit, the driver at ODFL's Fort Smith, Ark. location had worked for the company for five years without incident. In late June 2009, the employee reported to the company that he believed he had an alcohol problem. Under U.S. Department of Transportation regulations, the employer suspended the employee from his driving position and referred him for substance abuse counseling. However, the employer also informed the driver that the employer would never return him to a driving position, says the EEOC suit, even upon the successful completion of a counseling program. The EEOC discovered drivers at other service centers whom the employer had allegedly subjected to similar treatment.
Alcoholism is a recognized disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and disability discrimination violates this federal law. The EEOC said the company violated both the ADA and the Americans With Disabilities Act Amendment Act of 2008 (ADAAA) by conditioning reassignment to non-driving positions on the enrollment in an alcohol treatment program. In addition, the EEOC argued that Old Dominion's policy that bans any driver who self-reports alcohol abuse from ever driving again also violates the ADA.
The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement. The suit seeks monetary relief in the form of reinstatement to a driving position, back pay and compensatory and punitive damages, compensation for lost benefits for two drivers, and an injunction against future discrimination.
"While the EEOC agrees that an employer's concern regarding safety on our highways is a legitimate issue, an employer can both ensure safety and comply with the ADA." said Katharine Kores, director of the EEOC's Memphis District Office, whose jurisdiction includes Arkansas.