MARCH 09, 2010
In one of the most innovative legal arguments presented to defend the transgressions of a public official, a police chief fired for crashing while driving drunk claims to be the victim of disability discrimination based on his alcoholism.
The case involves the one-time police chief (Charles Budde) of the Kane County Forest Preserve District in Illinois. After boozing it up at a bar, the district’s top cop tried to drive home intoxicated. With a blood-alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit in Illinois, he rear ended another car seriously injuring its occupants.
With a preexisting pattern of “judgment errors,” Budde was promptly placed on administrative leave by district officials and subsequently fired. He responded with a lawsuit that claims his discharge was discriminatory based on his disability—alcoholism. In his complaint he asserts that the district failed to accommodate his disability and fired him in retaliation for requesting a reasonable accommodation.
A federal judge dismissed the suit, ruling that Budde had been fired because he clearly violated established work rules, even assuming his alcoholism was a disability. The disgraced chief appealed and this week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit essentially upheld the lower court’s ruling.
In its six-page decision a three-judge panel writes that, in choosing to drive while intoxicated and causing a crash that sent two people to the hospital, Budde failed to comply with the workplace rules and is no longer qualified to perform his job as police chief. The justices further remind Budde in their ruling that his drivers’ license has been suspended and driving is an essential part of the job he lost.
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