Facts: Rocky Hunter was employed as a security guard by a grocery store for over 20 years. Although Hunter, who is African American, received mostly positive annual performance evaluations over the course of his employment, he had received reprimands for tardiness, absenteeism, poor job performance and coming to work while intoxicated. On at least two occasions, Hunter was verbally warned that if he came to work intoxicated, he would be fired. Later, Hunter was suspended for using inappropriate language on the sales floor and for sleeping in the manager’s office. Hunter’s co-workers commented that he had acted disoriented and smelled of alcohol. Hunter entered an inpatient alcohol treatment center. After leaving the center, Hunter returned to work, and the store made accommodations with his schedule so that he could attend follow-up alcohol treatment counseling sessions twice a week. A short time later, Hunter came to work intoxicated and was given a written warning by his employer. Hunter was later terminated for coming to work intoxicated after receiving a written warning.
Hunter sued his employer for discrimination and wrongful termination. He claimed that his employer unlawfully terminated him because of his race, age and disability. Hunter claimed that alcoholism is a disability and that his termination based on his alleged intoxication at work was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The store filed a motion for summary judgment and argued that Hunter was not wrongfully terminated; the store presented extensive proof that he had violated a company rule by coming to work intoxicated.
Decision: The federal district court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. The district court held that there was no proof the store acted with a discriminatory intent when it fired Hunter. Additionally, the court noted that Hunter continuously violated the employer’s work rule prohibiting employees from being intoxicated while at work.
Implications: This case illustrates the general rule that an employee’s failure to meet an employer’s reasonable drug and alcohol policy constitutes a breach of an employer’s legitimate performance expectation, and provides an adequate, nondiscriminatory basis for termination.
Hunter v. Jewel-Osco, No. 11-8967, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Jan. 3, 2013.