Police Employee Terminated For Misconduct, Not For Alcoholism

Kathleen Nanos was an Office Support Specialist in the Stamford, Connecticut Police Department. Her general job duties included answering phones and serving members of the public who came to the records department.

Nanos is an alcoholic. On three occasions in 2004, Nanos’ supervisors communicated with her regarding her use of sick and vacation time. The supervisors expressed concern that Nanos had used all of the time she had accrued during her nine years of employment with the City.

A year later, in February 2005, Nanos was arrested for “breach of peace” for conduct while she was under the influence of alcohol. This resulted in Nanos signing a Last Chance Agreement that acknowledged Nanos’ years of service, but also noted her “habitual absenteeism and demonstrated abuse of alcohol which impacts her attendance and performance.” Under the terms of the Last Chance Agreement, “any violation of departmental policy or other inappropriate conduct or habitual absence will subject Nanos to immediate termination.”

Nanos subsequently was the subject of police incident reports in July 2005 and October 2005, both of which involved situations in which Nanos was under the influence of alcohol. By the end of 2005 and the start of 2006, Nanos was the subject of at least one police report a month arising out of conduct that occurred while she was under the influence of alcohol. On February 1, 2006, the City terminated Nanos, citing the fact that she “continued to demonstrate an unwillingness or inability to report to work on a consistent basis.”

Nanos filed a lawsuit under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), contending that alcoholism is an “impairment” covered by the ADA’s ban on discrimination. A federal trial court dismissed the lawsuit, citing the difference between an employer terminating an employee for alcoholism and terminating the employee for misconduct that may have been caused by alcoholism.

As the Court noted, “the ADA specifically authorizes termination for misconduct if it is caused by a disability in cases involving alcoholism and illegal drug use. Under the ADA, an employer may hold an employee who engages in the illegal use of drugs or who is an alcoholic to the same qualification standards for employment or job performance or behavior that such entity holds other employees, even if any unsatisfactory performance or behavior is related to the drug use or alcoholism of such employee.

“The Court will accept as true Nanos’ contention that the City terminated her employment because her alcoholism prevented her from maintaining regular attendance at work. The City has provided uncontested evidence that regular attendance is part of regular job performance, and that the City Charter provides that habitual absence is cause for discipline. And requiring regular attendance from Nanos despite her alcoholism, the City was holding her to the same standards for employment as any other City employees, meaning Nanos cannot sustain a claim under the ADA.”

Nanos v. City of Stamford, 2009 WL 1076707 (D. Conn. 2009).

This article appears in the June 2009 issue