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Recovering alcoholic sues for promotion under ADA.

David White, a high school basketball star turned physical education teacher, just wants to coach basketball. But despite his credentials and good work record, White claims, he cannot get the job because of his history of drinking. He successfully completed a voluntary treatment program for alcoholism three years ago.

White has filed suit in federal court against his employer, McFarland High School in McFarland, Wisconsin, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). ( White v. School District of McFarland, No. 94-C-0510-C (W.D. Wis. filed June 12, 1994). )

According to White's lawyer, Tim Tobin of Minnetonka, Minnesota, the high school says that White was not hired as coach because he was not the most qualified applicant who applied for the job.

The ADA forbids job discrimination against those who have a disability or a history of a disability or are perceived as having one. The act covers people who are in recovery from alcohol or drug problems.

"If someone comes in to work drunk and can't do his job or is a danger to himself or others, the employer can discipline him," said Sheldon Stark, an employment attorney from Royal Oak, Michigan.

"But if he has cleaned up his act and they don't want him because they disapprove of his past or they're scared he might someday fall off the wagon, he could have a good case."

One of the ADA's aims is to protect competent workers from employers who disapprove of their private behavior on moral or religious grounds. The ADA excludes from its protection current users of illegal drugs.

"In the past, it was quite common to discriminate against people for all sorts of reasons, such as going through therapy," John Donahue, a law professor at Northwestern University, told the New York Times.

"But the law has spoken quite clearly on this. When somebody is in the stage of recovery, they have legal protection in employment." (Dirk Johnson, Citing Disabilities Act, Ex-Drinker Sues for Job, N.Y. Times, Aug. 26, 1994, at A22.)

Michael Widomsky of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said that about 2.3 percent of ADA claims thus far have come from people who are recovering alcoholics.

Even if White's personnel file contains health insurance records of his treatment, Widomsky said, the school administrators are prohibited from using his medical history as a basis for employment decisions.
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Title Annotation:Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, White v. School District of McFarland
Author:Sargeant, Georgia
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Nov 1, 1994
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