Termination For Conduct Caused By Side Effects of Prescription Medication Was Not Disability Discrimination
A federal court in Florida has upheld an employee’s termination due to her “inebriated” conduct that was caused by her use of prescription medications, holding that her discharge did not constitute disability discrimination. Caporicci v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., Case No. 8-14-cv-2131-T-36EAJ (M.D. Fla. May 27, 2016).
Lisa Caporicci worked for Chipotle as a crew member and had a long history of depression and bi-polar disorder. In April 2013 she informed her manager that she took medication for bi-polar disorder but did not mention any side effects or behavioral issues that might arise from taking the medication.
In May 2013, Caporicci began taking new medication because she was experiencing panic attacks. At that time, she requested a few days off and her request was granted. She did not work for five days and returned on June 4, 2013. Four days later, she reported for work in what appeared to be an inebriated state. She was “very slow, messed up orders and was incoherent.” Caporicci’s supervisor took her off the serving line and sent her home. She was fired later that day, for violating Chipotle’s Drug and Alcohol Policy, which prohibits employees from reporting for work or being at work under the influence of alcohol, drugs or controlled substances, or with any detectable amount of alcohol, drugs or controlled substances in his or her system. The policy further provides that if an employee takes prescription medication that may adversely affect the ability to perform the job, he/she must notify his/her manager prior to starting work.
Caporicci asserted disability discrimination claims under federal and state law, as well as FMLA interference and retaliation claims. Her FMLA claims were dismissed because she had been employed less than 12 months. As to her disability discrimination claims, Caporicci argued that firing her for medication side effects was tantamount to firing her for her disability.
The Court noted that courts are split on the question of whether a termination based on conduct related to, or caused by, a disability constitutes unlawful discrimination. The majority position, which includes courts in the Eleventh Circuit, holds that an employer may discipline or terminate an employee for workplace misconduct even when the misconduct is a result of the disability. Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court discounted the minority position in Raytheon Company v. Hernandez, 540 U.S. 44, 55 n.6 (2003), stating: “To the extent that [the Ninth Circuit] suggested that, because respondent’s workplace misconduct is related to his disability, petitioner’s refusal to rehire respondent on account of that workplace misconduct violated the ADA, we point out that we have rejected a similar argument in the context of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.”
For these reasons, the Court followed the majority position and held that Caporicci’s termination was not discrimination based on her disability, but rather, it was the result of her employer’s application of a neutral policy which prohibited employees from reporting to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol.