June 20, 2014. When a commercial driver, Sakari Jarvela, was diagnosed with alcoholism, he sought FMLA leave from the carrier company for whom he worked, Crete Carrier Corporation. Initially, Crete approved his requested FMLA leave. After a month of treatment, Jarvela asked to come back to work. However, under federal regulations, a person with a diagnosis of alcoholism is disqualified from driving commercial vehicles. Crete refused to allow its former driver back to work and terminated his employment.
The driver sued in federal court, arguing that Crete discriminated against him based on a disability (alcoholism). He also claimed his former employer interfered with his FMLA rights. The 11th Circuit ruled against the former driver on his ADA claim, holding that it is the employer’s responsibility under federal regulations from the Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to determine if an employee has a current clinical diagnosis of alcoholism. The Court determined the former driver was not a “qualified individual” under the Americans with Disability Act because he could not meet the essential functions of his job, as stated in Crete’s job description. That is, Jarvela was not physically qualified because of his diagnosis. In addition, the Court ruled against Jarvela on his FMLA interference and retaliation claim, as his FMLA leave had no bearing on whether he would have been fired. You can read the full case HERE.