Fired, Alcoholic Teacher Accuses School Of Disability Discrimination

Jennifer Zeigler had been working as a Georgia middle school teacher for 25 years when she lost her job after driving drunk to school one day. Now Zeigler has filed a federal complaint against the school district that fired her, reports The Daily Citizen of Dalton, Ga., claiming sex and disability discrimination.

While conceding that she is an alcoholic, Ziegler claims that she'd never been drunk at work or school, and she argues that her dismissal amounts to disability discrimination because alcoholism is protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act. In her complaint, filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, she also alleges sex discrimination, claiming that two male employees had been arrested for drunken driving and were actually promoted to management afterwards. Another man, she alleges, was hired, despite a DUI on his record.

Last March, Zeigler was arrested on her way to Bagley Middle School in Chatsworth, Ga. Her blood alcohol level was .311, almost four times the legal limit, police say. She pleaded "no contest," and was given 12 months probation and an order to complete a drug and alcohol awareness program. The school district promptly knocked her off its payroll.

By law, alcoholic employees can't be fired for their addiction. But they can fired for failing to meet performance and behavior standards, even if they don't meet these standards because of drinking. Being drunk in the classroom is probably a violation of most schools' performance and behavior standards. That's why Zeigler was fired, according to Mike Tuck, administrative services director for Murray County Schools. If she hadn't been pulled over, "she would have arrived at school, where she would have surely put our students, parents and staff at risk of serious injury or death," he told The Daily Citizen.

Such Lawsuits See Mixed Success

Some alcoholic, or formerly alcoholic, workers have found success with discrimination cases in the past. In 1992, David White sued the Wisconsin high school where he worked as a phys-ed teacher; the school had refused to give him the job of basketball coach, saying his history of heavy drinking, despite a stint in rehab, would bring "negative attention" to the team. The lawsuit settled for $50,000.

The next year, White faced 14 counts of sexual abuse of his students and using drugs.

Other workers have had similar complaints go nowhere. Clinton Knowles, a former Sarasota, Fla., police officer, sued for discrimination after he was fired for repeatedly showing up for work hungover. He lost.

Two alcoholism suits are certainly working their way through the courts. Last year, Frank Stephenson sued Florida State University, his employer of 28 years, for firing him after his alcoholism allegedly led to memory lapses and abusive behavior. A trucking company was also handed a lawsuit last year, after refusing to give a formerly alcoholic employee his job back, after he went through counseling and treatment.

The cases vary, but the principle remains the same. Alcoholics can't lose their jobs just for being alcoholics, but they can lose their jobs if they can't do their jobs because they're alcoholics.

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Isn't .35 like legally dead?? she was at .31.. WHOA..

January 17 2014 at 12:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

BS - she deserved to be fired PERIOD.

January 16 2014 at 3:33 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

And since she was on her way to school and had she lost control of the car and injured innocent children or their parents the school district would have bee sued for not taking appropriate actions. What a crazy, upside-down world we live in!!! Blame someone else for your actions instead of taking responsibility for them.

January 22 2013 at 1:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I hate that being a DRUNK is even considered a disability.

November 13 2012 at 7:29 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I certainly want this woman teaching my children. LOL!

A good example of the high standards that liberals and leftist promote and defend.

June 29 2012 at 10:33 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I'm going to go out on a limb here and figure that if the sloppy drunk had not got stopped on her way to school that day, she would have had a chance of actually making it to class and had authority over children. I would further posit that that would not have been the first time.
The male employees who are or were drunks; Were they caught perhaps after school hours, or on weekends? Were they suspected at all of coming to work smashed?
Shame on the sleazy shyster who took on her case. And shame on the judge whose docket it fell to, for not dismissing it outright.
And finally, shame on the drunk. If you choose to be an irresponsible drunk, you choose the consequences.

May 19 2012 at 9:45 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I don't know why when people see how destructive drinkiing can be, they CONTINUE to drink. Yes alcoholism like drug addiction is hard to conquer. NEVERTHELESS, society can't be punished for your SELF-INDUCED "disease." Someone having to use a cane or wheelchair can still perform on their job. Not someone who is drunk out of their mind. And she's a teacher????????

May 17 2012 at 9:19 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Just another character-less, alcohol-addicted human being whining about her "disease." If having a weak character and apparently too few brain cells is a disease, she definitely has it. She deserves to be fired, in my opinion.

May 16 2012 at 4:06 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I am a 40 year veteran of the teaching profession. This teacher is in serious denial. In any case, she deserved to be fired. Sure, she's addicted. But she has a choice of letting the addiction rule her or not. She is not fit to be near kids. Parents wouldn't want her to be their kids' teacher. The same is true for teachers who molest children and the occasional teacher who decides to smoke in the classroom. They all need to be dumped immediately. Laws should be passed forbidding discrimination lawsuits by such teachers. There should be court hearings about such firings, however, to protect innocent teachers from false accusations.

May 16 2012 at 1:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ricardo Martin

To translate these comments for the sarcasm impaired: a teacher is in no condition to teach when she arrives in the classroom drunk. The male staff were arrested AWAY from school. So she basically has no case.

May 14 2012 at 2:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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