Officer Terminated For Misconduct, Not Drug Addiction

Bryan Witt was a police officer with the City of Lake Oswego, Oregon. In 2002, a departmental investigation found that Witt was present at a party where others were allegedly using illegal substances. A captain counseled Witt that he should be “wary of his associations since it could impact his career.”

In 2005, the Department received information that Witt had attempted to purchase cocaine after a late night visit to a strip club in the area. During the investigation, interviews with witnesses raised new and additional allegations of illegal and/or improper conduct by Witt. The Investigative Summary covered 18 allegations of improper conduct, and concluded that there was evidence supporting 12 of the 18 allegations. Three of the allegations involved Witt’s alleged use of drugs both before and during his employment with the Department.

The Department terminated Witt, basing its decision on the 12 allegations of misconduct. Witt challenged the termination by bringing a lawsuit under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), contending that his termination violated the ADA’s protection against discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities.

Witt contended that he was terminated because the Department believed he was a drug addict. Under the ADA, an individual is disabled either if he has a physical or mental impairment (including drug addiction) that substantially limits one or more major life activities or if the employer regards him as having such an impairment.

A federal court rejected Witt’s lawsuit. The Court found that “the record clearly indicates that the Department terminated Witt because of his misconduct, not because of any perceived disability. Although individuals with substance abuse problems are protected by the ADA, courts have held that an employer need not allow an employee with a disability to engage in misconduct.

“Alcoholics and drug addicts are not exempt from reasonable rules of conduct, such as prohibition against possession or use of alcohol or drugs in the workplace. As a police officer, Witt was reasonably expected to refrain from both the personal use of narcotics and from being in social situations where narcotics were being used by others. In addition, Witt was reasonably expected to truthfully disclose prior drug use in his employment application. Because Witt was fired for his alleged misconduct and not because of any perceived disability, the City’s decision to terminate him does not violate the ADA.”

Witt v. City of Lake Oswego, 2008 WL 4911881 (D.Or. 2008).

This article appears in the February 2009 issue