If a commercial driver is diagnosed with chronic alcoholism, can his employer terminate him a week later because his diagnosis excludes him from performing the essential functions of his job? In Jarvela v. Crete Carrier Corp., the Eleventh Circuit said yes. Crete Carrier terminated Jarvela because of his week-old diagnosis, determining that he was in violation of its policy that prohibits employment of anyone who has had a diagnosis of alcoholism within the past five years. Jarvela alleged that he was terminated for his disability—alcoholism—in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He also alleged that his termination ran afoul of the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Crete Carrier incorporated the Department of Transportation (DOT) requirements into the commercial driver job description and they provide that drivers cannot have a current diagnosis of alcoholism. The Court held that an alcoholic commercial truck driver is not a qualified individual under the ADA, i.e., an alcoholic cannot perform the essential functions of a truck driver, with or without a reasonable accommodation. The Court also held that Crete Carrier would have terminated Jarvela regardless of the fact that he took FMLA leave.
Jarvela argued that his termination was wrongful because, although he had been diagnosed with alcoholism, he had received rehabilitative clinical treatment and his physician certified that he could return to work. Pointing to a medical record that diagnosed the employee with chronic alcohol dependence a mere seven days before he was certified to return to work, Crete Carrier (and the court) rejected Jarvela’s claim that he was cured. The Court held that a seven-day-old diagnosis is current for purposes of determining whether a driver falls short of the DOT standard that prohibits the employment of drivers with a current diagnosis of alcoholism. The Court declined to decide exactly how much time must pass before a diagnosis of alcoholism is no longer current, but made clear that seven days is not enough.