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Can You Sue Your Employer if You're Fired for Being an Alcoholic?

A Pittsburg woman is claiming her former employer fired her because she went to rehab, and she might have a case.

by Mike Pearl
May 20 2015, 3:00pm

Strip District Primanti Bros. Location, via Google Street View

A Pittsburgh woman named Lucy Dufala has sued the restaurant chain she used to work for because they allegedly fired her for being an alcoholic. According to a complaint filed in court on Tuesday, she was let go by the manager after she called the Primanti Brothers she worked for from rehab.

The lawsuit claims that despite her condition she was a good worker, and that she was fired because of her addiction. While that may sound frivolous to some, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) actually does cover alcoholism. Employers can prohibit employees from drinking on the job, of course, and if a worker's drinking gets in the way of their duties they can be reprimanded or fired—but you can't lay off someone for being an alcoholic if they are able to perform their job. In fact, if someone has a crippling alcohol addiction, employers may be required under the law to let them take time off to go to rehab. (These protections do not apply to people using illegal drugs.)

Related: The War on Drug Tests

Notable past cases of people suing under the ADA because of alcoholism-related discrimination have been pretty flimsy, however. There was the former director of research communications at Florida State University who sued the school in 2011 after being fired (his subordinates said he was abusive toward them and suffered memory lapses). There was also the New Jersey sanitation worker who sued in 2005 in response to getting fired after losing his license because of a DUI and therefore being unable to drive the garbage truck. Then there are cases of cops who sued after being fired for being in drunk-driving accidents: one in Washington State, one in Oregon, and one in Illinois that was especially bad—it was the town's police chief himself who was driving under the influence, and he injured two people by rear-ending their car.

Dufala's own lawsuit may hinge on whether she was a good employee or not—in other words, how functional her alcoholism was—and whether she was canned simply because she needed to go to rehab, which would likely be a no-no under the ADA.

VICE reached out to Dufala's lawyer for comment, but our request was not returned as of this posting.

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