Texas Delivery Driver’s Suit Claiming Discrimination, Failure to Accommodate, and Retaliation After Post-DWI Termination Dismissed on Summary Judgment

drunk drivingSometimes, an employer can do everything in its power to “work with” an employee, giving him or her the benefit of every doubt, and yet still find itself on the wrong end of a Dallas employment law case.

In a recent case, an employer did not immediately terminate a delivery driver whose drivers’ license was suspended due to drunk driving, placing him in a non-driving position instead. Nevertheless, the employee filed multiple union grievances, an OSHA complaint (after falling in a liquid substance at work), and, eventually, a lawsuit against the employer.

Facts of the Case

In a case recently considered on appeal by the Texas Court of Appeals for the Third District at Austin, the plaintiff had worked for the defendant package delivery company for approximately 20 years prior to his termination in March 2012. He was an hourly, full-time union employee. After he was charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) while driving in his personal vehicle after work hours, he was removed from his position as a package car driver and placed in an inside, non-driving position that paid several dollars less per hour.

The plaintiff filed two grievances against the employer, seeking to be reinstated to his driver position. Both grievances were resolved in the employer’s favor. Thereafter, the plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, alleging that the defendant had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (insomuch as the plaintiff was participating in the defendant’s Substance Abuse Program following his DWI). He also contacted OSHA after he slipped and fell at work.

The plaintiff was eventually fired in March 2012. He again filed a collective bargaining grievance, which was ultimately not successful. He filed suit in March 2014, alleging disability discrimination, failure to accommodate, retaliation, and wrongful discharge. The trial court granted summary judgment in the defendant’s favor.

The Court of Appeals Decision

The appellate court affirmed the lower tribunal’s grant of summary judgment to the employer. The former employee asserted that his alcoholism was a disability for purposes of state and federal law and that his former employer failed to make reasonable accommodations for him by refusing to return him to the higher-paid position of delivery driver following his DWI. He further asserted that his termination was in retaliation for his EEOC and workers’ compensation claims.

The court rejected these contentions, agreeing with the defendant that it had provided a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its refusal to return the defendant to his position as a driver. The court also noted that the plaintiff had failed to state what accommodation(s) he needed or to request any adjustment(s) in his working conditions; rather, he simply requested a return to his prior position as a driver. The court also noted that, while it was unclear whether the plaintiff could have driven under an occupational license (while his regular license was suspended) if the defendant had allowed the installation of an ignition interlock device, the evidence showed that installation of such a device on one of the defendant’s delivery vehicles was not feasible.

Defend a Dallas Employee Law Case

At Key Harrington Barnes, we help employers resolve a number of different types of employment law matters, including wrongful discharge, wage and hour claims, and allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace. To schedule an appointment to discuss a situation or possible claim against your business, call us at 214-615-7925. We will be happy to schedule an appointment to discuss possible defenses, as well as ways in which similar claims may be prevented in the future.

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