HDT file photo by Deborah Lockridge

HDT file photo by Deborah Lockridge

A federal jury earlier this month found that the trucking company Old Dominion Freight Line Inc. violated federal disability discrimination law when it denied accommodation to -- and then fired -- a truck driver who self-reported alcohol abuse, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

According to the EEOC's suit, when the former driver self-reported an alcohol problem, it included seeking assistance from Old Dominion, but 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.

EEOC said the company claimed 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.

The suit alleged such conduct by the trucking company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The EEOC said it filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas against Old Dominion in August 2011 after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

On Jan. 15 the jury returned a verdict for the EEOC and awarded the former truck driver $119,612 in back pay.

When contacted about the verdict Old Dominion had no comment.

"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 EEOC 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.”

He said 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.

According to EEOC Lead Trial Attorney Pamela Dixon and Trial Attorney Markeisha Savage, who tried the case, 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.