ExxonMobil’s Alcohol Use Policy Violates NJ Law Against Disability Discrimination

A long-term employee of ExxonMobil voluntarily disclosed that she suffered from alcoholism (a disability under New Jersey law) and was going to an inpatient rehabilitation program.  Her job performance was satisfactory at the time. When she returned from the medical treatment, ExxonMobil required her to agree to total abstinence and random alcohol testing for a minimum of two years as a condition of employment. These conditions were required by ExxonMobil’s alcohol and drug use policy. Her employment was terminated nearly one year later when a Breathalyzer test revealed alcohol use. She filed suit, alleging disability discrimination.  The New Jersey appellate court ruled that ExxonMobil’s imposition of these conditions and the termination of her employment under the alcohol and drug use policy constituted direct evidence of discrimination which required ExxonMobil to show that it would have fired her even if it had not considered her disability.  SeeA.D.P. v. ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company (App.Div. October 26, 2012).  The rationale for this decision is clear because alcoholism is a disability under the law.  Imposing special work conditions on someone with alcoholism (which science shows a strong inherited risk) is like telling an employee with diabetes or heart disease that the employer will monitor what they eat and they will be fired if they eat too much fat. To comply with the law, an employee must be judged on her job performance rather than her medical status.