Can You Fire a Commercial Driver for Alcoholism?
Jarvela v. Crete Carrier Corp.: A motor carrier does not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act by terminating the employment of a commercial driver who has been diagnosed with alcoholism, because under 49 C.F.R. § 391.41, a commercial driver with a current diagnosis of alcoholism is not physically qualified to operate a commercial vehicle.
Just the Facts
Sakari Jarvela sued his former employer Crete Carrier Corporation alleging that it had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family Medical Leave Act. Pursuant to its policies, Crete terminated the employment of Jarvela (a commercial truck driver) due to his having been diagnosed with alcoholism within the previous five years. A week before being terminated by Crete, Jarvela discharged from treatment at a substance abuse center with a diagnosis of alcoholism.
Crete is forbidden by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration from permitting an individual to drive a commercial vehicle who is not qualified to do so under DOT regulations. In order to be qualified to drive a commercial vehicle, a driver must (among other things) meet the physical qualifications for driving set forth under 49 C.F.R. § 391.41. One of those physical qualifications is that a driver cannot have a current clinical diagnosis of alcoholism.
To show that Crete had implemented discriminatory termination by firing him in contravention of the ADA, Jarvela must show that: (1) he was disabled; (2) he was a qualified individual; and (3) he suffered unlawful discrimination because of his disability. As established above, 49 C.F.R. § 391.41(b)(13) specifically disqualifies any person from operating a commercial motor vehicle who has a “current clinical diagnosis of alcoholism.” Because Jarvela was not qualified to drive a commercial vehicle as a result of his clinical diagnosis of alcoholism, the ADA did not protect him from being terminated as a result of the condition.
Jarvela’s allegations that Crete had violated the FMLA arose from their alleged failure to reinstate him after granted him leave to care for his “serious health condition.” The United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia found these claims to be meritless, because there was no evidence that Crete had either interfered with nor terminated Jarvela as a result of his medical leave.
Crete moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted. Jarvela appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Jarvela v. Crete Carrier Corp., 776 F.3d 822 (11th Cir. 2015).
The Heart of the Issues
The issues on appeal were whether the district court erred (1) in granting summary judgment as to the ADA termination claim, (2) in granting summary judgment as to the FMLA interference claim, and (3) in granting summary judgment as to the FMLA retaliation claim.
For the reasons set forth above, the 11th Circuit held that Jarvela had a clinical diagnosis of alcoholism within the meaning of DOT regulations, such that he was not qualified for his position (as a commercial driver) under the ADA; Crete did not interfere with Jarvela’s medical leave; and Crete’s decision to terminate Jarvela was not in retaliation for his medical leave. It therefore affirmed the district court’s ruling.
Of note in this case, the expert medical testimony was that a diagnosis of alcoholism is a lifelong diagnosis. The inference then is that once diagnosed as an alcoholic, a person would always have a “current” diagnosis, under the meaning of 49 C.F.R. § 391.41(b)(13), and would never again be physically qualified to operate a commercial vehicle, per 49 C.F.R. § 391.41(a)(3)(i).
For more on a similar topic: In 2016, Crete had to defend itself against a driver who sued for being required to undergo medical testing for sleep apnea.
 See 49 C.F.R. § 391.11(a).
 See 49 C.F.R. § 391.41(a)(3)(i).
 See 49 C.F.R. § 391.41(b)(13)
 See 42 U.S.C.A. § 12101 et seq.
Photo by Imagens Evangélicas.