Fired Cop Claims Alcoholism as a Disability and Sues

By Will Godfrey 04/29/13

A $6 million lawsuit from a fired drunk-driving police officer will test the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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On the water now; should Servo have kept his
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A cop who was fired for driving drunk in an unmarked police car is suing the city of Gresham, Oregon for $6 million—claiming that his rights as an alcoholic under the Americans with Disabilities Act were violated. Jason Servo, 43, was arrested off-duty in September 2011 after driving into a ditch. He refused a breathalyzer or field sobriety tests, but the arresting officer testified that Servo was probably one of the 10 drunkest drivers he'd come across in nearly 15 years. Servo subsequently attended diversion and in-patient programs, where he was diagnosed as an alcoholic; he's now been sober for over two years. "There were times where I went home and I couldn't get crime scenes out of my head," says Servo, who was his department's lead firearms instructor. "I went to drinking for that and there are other officers that do the same thing." His lawsuit alleges that he was fired without due process in order to save money. "Just as with any type of disability or disease, they should have made some kind of effort to accommodate that, or some kind of effort to work with him, and not simply sever all ties," says one of Servo's attorneys.

The application of the Americans with Disabilities Act when it comes to firing addicted employees or awarding them benefits is highly controversial. “I am particularly worried about the ‘regarded as disability’ corner of ADA law," employment litigation lawyer Thomas Gies told The Fix in our recent report on this subject. "A plaintiff [could have a case] asserting that the employer’s refusal to let plaintiff continue in a [public] safety–sensitive job—airline pilots, bus drivers, the captain of a vessel like the Exxon Valdez—is unlawful because the employer's worry about a possible relapse amounts to ‘regarding’ the person as ‘disabled.’” But Bob Joondephexecutive director for Disability Rights Oregon, says: "The ADA has provisions in it, across the board, to not require employers to subject other people to unreasonable risk to accommodate a disability."

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Will Godfrey is the former editor-in-chief of TheFix. He was also the founding editor-in-chief of Substance.com, and previously co-founded a magazine for prisoners in London. His work has appeared in Salon, Pacific Standard, AlterNet and The Nation among others. He is currently the Executive Director at FILTER. You can find Will on Linkedin and Twitter.

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