Firing Alcoholic Police Chief Does Not Violate ADA

Charles Budde was the Police Chief for the Kane County Forest Preserve in Illinois. On the evening of March 11, 2005, while off duty, Budde rear-ended another car, damaging his own vehicle and sending the passengers of the other car to the hospital. An investigation ensued.

Budde admitted that he was an alcoholic who would drink virtually every evening when he returned home from work until he passed out in a chair in front of the television. Budde suffered at least one blackout per week, had difficulty sleeping, was unable to help care for his children, argued frequently with his wife and children, and suffered from serious memory lapses.

Two months after the accident, Budde began seeking treatment for his alcoholism. Nonetheless, the City terminated Budde for “a pattern of errors in judgment, his inability to perform duties as director of public safety due to the suspension of his driving privileges, and engaging in conduct that is below the standard expected for the position.”

Budde sued the City under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), claiming that his alcoholism was a disability under the ADA, and that the City refused to reasonably accommodate him. A federal court dismissed Budde’s lawsuit.

The Court assumed for purposes of its decision that Budde indeed did suffer from a disability covered by the ADA. The Court found that Budde was “nevertheless barred from recovering under the ADA because he was fired for violating a universally applicable work rule. It is well established that an employee can be terminated for violations of valid work rules that apply to all employees, even if the employee’s violations occurred under the influence of a disability. Budde may contend that his violation of the DUI law was caused by his alcoholism; the ADA permits employers to hold an employee who is an alcoholic to the same qualification standards for employment or job performance and behavior that the employer holds other employees, even if any unsatisfactory performance or behavior is related to the alcoholism of such employee.”

Budde v. Kane County Forest Preserve, 2009 WL 736646 (N.D. Ill. 2009).

This article appears in the May 2009 issue