AMES v. HOME DEPOT (January 6, 2011)

Diane Ames had a five-year, incident free employment record with Home Depot when she asked her store manager for the company's assistance with her alcohol problem. She enrolled in the company's employee assistance program and was put on paid leave. She was told that she could return when she had a treatment plan, passed a drug and alcohol test, and obtained return authorization. She did so and returned to work within a month. The following month, however, she was arrested for driving under the influence. When Home Depot found out, it required her to schedule an alcohol treatment evaluation. The company gave her several extensions within which to schedule the evaluation. In the meantime, she sought scheduling accommodations from her manager so she could attend her Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, she provided her manager a treatment note from her physician, and she shared many of her other personal difficulties with her manager. During a regularly scheduled shift on December 23, an assistant manager suspected that she was under the influence of alcohol. She was immediately tested. When the company learned that she tested positive for alcohol, it decided to terminate her for substance abuse. Her manager scheduled a meeting with her on January 2 to notify her. She missed the meeting because she began drinking more and checked herself into a hospital on January 1. Home Depot mailed Ames a letter on January 10 informing her of the termination of her employment. Ames filed suit pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Judge Coar (N.D. Ill.) granted summary judgment to Home Depot on those claims. Ames appeals.

In their opinion, Judges Manion, Tinder, and Hamilton affirmed. On her claim under the FMLA that Home Depot interfered with her leave rights, Ames was required to establish (among other things) that she was entitled to leave under the Act. An employee is entitled to live under the FMLA only if she is suffering from a "serious health condition," which is defined as an illness that involves inpatient care or continuing treatment. Substance abuse can qualify as a serious health condition but only if it meets the inpatient care or continuing treatment standard. The record contains no evidence of either. She did check into a hospital, but that was after her employment was terminated. Therefore, no reasonable juror could conclude that she had a serious health condition -- her FMLA interference claim fails. Ames also asserted an FMLA retaliation claim, pursuant to which she had to establish that she engaged in a protected activity, that she suffered an adverse job action, and that there was a causal connection between them. The Court addressed only the causal connection prong. Here, the record contains no evidence that Home Depot's decision to fire Ames was related to any alleged request for FMLA leave – her FMLA retaliation claim fails. Lastly, the Court rejected Ames' ADA claim. In order to prevail on that claim, she had to establish that she had a disability. Alcoholism can be a disability under the ADA but only if it "substantially limits" a major life activity. Ames offered no evidence that her alcoholism even adversely affected her life's activities. In fact, the only evidence on that score was her testimony that it did not affect her performance on the job. Her ADA claim fails.