October 23, 2018

October 23, 2018

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October 22, 2018

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Recovering Alcoholic’s Claims Dismissed Because He Did Not Show He Was “Disabled”

A federal court in New York dismissed all claims asserted by a recovering alcoholic under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act for numerous reasons including that he did not show he was “disabled.” Johnson v. N.Y. State Office of Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Servs., No. 16-cv-9769 (S.D.N.Y. March 13, 2018).

Plaintiff, a recovering alcoholic, was a former Addictions Counselor Assistant at the Creedmoor Addiction Treatment Center. He sued his employer, New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (“OASAS”) alleging he was harassed, discriminated and retaliated against in violation of the ADA and Rehabilitation Act. Specifically, he alleged that he was passed over for a promotion, denied a transfer, and assigned “jobs nobody wants to do.” He further alleged that he suffered adverse actions in retaliation for both internal complaints he made about purported violations of his clients’ rights, and for a subsequent federal action he filed in 2015. In his view, OASAS “created a hostile work environment” such by giving him negative evaluations, instructing him to confiscate clients’ property, and denying the clients visitation rights.

The Court held that Plaintiff failed to state facts sufficiently connecting his “alleged” disability to his “laundry list of workplace grievances.” The Court centered its analysis on whether Plaintiff adequately pleaded that he was “disabled” under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act. Plaintiff failed to allege that his supervisors regarded him as having a disability or even that they were aware of his alcoholism.  He further failed to allege that he had a record of a substantially limiting impairment.  The court stated that Plaintiff assumed that he is disabled with the meaning of federal law because he identifies as a “recovering alcoholic.”  While alcoholism is recognized as an “impairment” under federal law, “more than a physical or mental impairment is required to satisfy the definition of disability.”  A plaintiff must also allege facts showing that his or her status as a recovering addict “substantially limits” one of his or her “major life activities.” Because Plaintiff failed to plead such facts, his disability discrimination and failure to accommodate claims were dismissed.

As to the retaliation claims, the Court concluded that even if Plaintiff could prove that the employer took an “adverse action” against him, he failed to plead facts showing that any alleged adverse action was “because” of his opposition to any unlawful employment practice. Retaliation claims require a plaintiff to allege facts showing a “but-for” causal connection. Plaintiff’s conclusory allegations that the employer took various adverse actions against him in response to his complaints about purported violations of clients’ rights was not sufficient. Additionally, the temporal time frame between the filing of his federal action in April 2015 and the purported adverse actions said to occur in February 2016 was too remote, by itself, to raise an inference of but-for causation.

Similarly, Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claims failed because his collective examples of alleged hostility and workplace abuse fell short of the standard, and his allegations did not establish that the alleged hostile conduct occurred on account of his alleged disability. Accordingly, all of Plaintiff’s claims were dismissed.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2018

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About this Author

Associate

Ashley C. Zangara is an Associate in the Long Island, New York, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Her practice focuses on representing employers in workplace law matters, including preventive advice and counseling.

While attending law school, Ms. Zangara was a teaching assistant for Legal Research and Writing and an Articles Editor for the St. John’s Law Review. Ms. Zangara was a student teacher for the St. John’s Street Law Program during the fall of 2014. She also served as Director of Events and then Vice President of St. John’s Intellectual Property Law...

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