EEOC sues Old Dominion

Federal officials have filed a discrimination suit against Old Dominion Freight Line over its alleged policy of banning recovering alcoholics from driving.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charged Aug. 16 the general commodity hauler violated Americans with Disabilities Act compliance after it fired a trucker who reported he had abused alcohol.

The ADA recognizes alcoholism as a disability. The U.S. Department of Transportation does not prevent employees who report themselves for alcohol abuse from returning to driving.

The North Carolina-based company has not yet issued a response to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas. Bill Canfill, Old Dominion assistant general counsel, said the company would vigorously defend itself in the suit.

The EEOC filed the complaint with a request for jury trial after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement with the carrier.

The driver worked for Old Dominion for five years without incident until late June 2009, when he told his supervisor he believed he had an alcohol problem and was suspended from driving.

On June 29, he began attending Alcoholics Anonymous. On July 1, the driver met with a DOT-certified Substance Abuse Professional, who indicated the employee “would participate in out-patient treatment and he could be returned to work.”

That day, supervisors told him it was unlikely he could return to driving. The commission stated earlier that year that other ODFL “banned” drivers who had self-reported substance abuse were prevented from returning to driving for the company.

The employer had allegedly told him he could become a part-time dock worker when that position became available, but without benefits.

The driver believed he would have to pay for private out-patient treatment, for which he would only be reimbursed if insurance approved the care. He informed his supervisor he could not afford private treatment but was attending group treatment.

Old Dominion terminated him for “job abandonment” July 24.

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The EEOC has asked the court to order the driver reinstated. It also requested back pay, compensatory and punitive damages and lost benefit compensation for the driver, and an injunction against ODFL against future non-ADA compliance.