Fired Police Officer Sues, Claims Alcoholism Discrimination

 Former Gresham, Ore., police officer Jason Servo speaks at his attorney┬┤s office in Portland, Ore., Friday, April 26, 2013.  Servo, fired for driving drunk in an unmarked police car while off-duty in January, 2011, has filed a $6 million lawsuit against the city, the police chief and others, alleging his rights were violated under the Americans with Disabilities Act.(AP Photo/Don Ryan)<br />

If you get drunk and drive a company car into a ditch, can your employer legally fire you for it - if you're an alcoholic? That's the question at the heart of a lawsuit filed by Jason Servo, a former Gresham, Oregon police officer.

In January 2011, Servo admits he got drunk and when he was off-duty, crashed an unmarked police car into a ditch.
Servo, 43, was arrested and later pled guilty to driving under the influence and entered an alcohol treatment program. He was fired. Now, he has filed a $6 million lawsuit against the city of Gresham and the officials who terminated him, claiming he is an alcoholic and his rights were violated under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Just as with any type of disability or disease, they should have made some kind of effort to accommodate that, or some kind of effort to work with him, and not simply sever all ties," said Shawn Kollie, one of Servo's attorneys.

Gresham Police Chief Craig Junginger was out of the office Friday. City spokeswoman Laura Shepard said officials would not discuss the case because their policy is to not talk about pending litigation.

According to the lawsuit, Servo, a detective who was the department's lead firearms instructor, had taken the police car to a firearms training session and then later joined some of his coworkers for dinner and drinks. "This was a common practice among (Gresham) officers and had become an inherent part of the culture," the lawsuit said.

More: 8 Ways Employers Can Discriminate Against Workers -- Legally

Servo, alone in the car, wasn't hurt in the car accident. He refused to take a breathalyzer or field sobriety test, and the deputy who arrested him later testified that Servo was probably one of the "top 10" most intoxicated people he had arrested in nearly 15 years of drunken-driving investigations.

Two months later, Servo pled guilty to the DUI and entered a diversion program. He fulfilled the program's requirements and the DUI was dismissed. He also voluntarily entered an in-patient program at a Serenity Lane drug-and-alcohol treatment center, where he was diagnosed as an alcoholic.

"There were times where I went home and I couldn't get crime scenes out of my head; I went to drinking for that and there are other officers that do the same thing," Servo said Friday, adding that he has now been sober for 818 days. The lawsuit alleged the police chief fired Servo to save money, ignoring the known disability of alcoholism. "I know it sounds kind of like a conspiracy theorist's claim," Kollie said, "but we do believe there was a funding issue in the Gresham police department at the time."

Such "alcoholism discrimination" cases are not unusual. Earlier this year, Jonathan Blazek, a snowplow driver, sued the city of Lakewood, Ohio after he was fired for allegedly drinking on the job. Blazek claimed his dismissal violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because he was an alcoholic. These lawsuits, however, have had mixed success. In 1992, a gym teacher sued the school where he worked; the school had denied him a job as a coach, saying his history of heavy drinking, despite rehab, would bring "negative attention" to the team. The lawsuit was settled for $50,000. But last year, a Sarasota, Florida police officer sued for disability discrimination after he was fired for repeatedly showing up to work hungover. He lost his suit.

More: 15 Things You Need To Know About Disability Discrimination

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's fact sheet provides an example of how an alcoholic can justly be fired, and it's similar to the Servo case. In its example, a federal police officer is involved in an accident for which he is charged with drunken driving. About a month later, he gets a termination notice stating that his conduct makes it inappropriate for him to continue. The officer says the arrest made him realize he is an alcoholic and that he is obtaining treatment. According to the EEOC, the employer may proceed with the firing.

The example, of course, is not precise because Servo's crash happened while he was off-duty. "The ADA has provisions in it, across the board, to not require employers to subject other people to unreasonable risk to accommodate a disability," said Bob Joondeph, executive director with Disability Rights Oregon.

Joondeph said he couldn't comment on any specifics in the Servo case, but generally accommodations for an alcoholic might include letting the worker attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings - not allowing them to drink on the job or drive drunk.

Separate from the lawsuit, Servo is appealing the standards-and-training agency's decision to strip him of his police certification.Servo is currently working as a private investigator.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:
Randall Burns

Police are under extraordinary stress-and have a much higher
level of alcohol, prescription and drug misuse than the general population. I think there are legitimate, stress related disabilities there--but many police are simply too impaired to be carrying a gun or involved in important decisions. The latter also applies to many judges, lawyers and lawmakers. Most cases of legal malpractice involve dependency/misuse of cocaine or alcohol. Even being regularly hung over can affect judgment and decision making. I think that many police problems could be avoided by requiring periodic and random drug and average alcohol consumption tests. Most problems could be handled early on with counseling. If you agree sign this petition.

September 14 2014 at 10:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sara Servalis

I Think I'm An Alcoholic

May 25 2013 at 7:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I know you can sue anyone for just about anything. However, they should check with the Attorney who took this case and find out what "His Drug Of Choice Is"! Only in America!

May 15 2013 at 6:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Alcohol and substance abuse is not covered under ADA as with for example Parkinson's.
There is no requirement to accommodate disordered behavior stemming from
substances. There is a requirement to accommodate issues related to the
recovery process such as attending meetings.
While officers are held to a higher standard, in theory, under badge of authority,
non-sworn employees eg truck drivers, equipment operators cannot fall back on
ADA. There is a need to get past denial and blaming others, seek treatment
and re-build one's life.

May 15 2013 at 5:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Alcoholism is a disease, but the alcoholic needs to seek treatment. If they do not, then they are allowing the disease to escalate and become worse. Seeking treatment to get better is every patients responsibility. This officer apparently felt he could let himself get drunk and drive. That is against the law. As an officer of the law he is held to a higher standard. Destroying department equipment because he chose to drive drunk is a crime. And one more thing.... this alcoholic who drives drunk is permitted to be a gun instructor? The LAST thing he should have access to is guns! Note to Officer: YOU chose to break the law, YOU chose to not seek treatment, YOU chose to destroy department property, YOU chose to commit the crime. You are unfit to wear the uniform. They should sue YOU for destruction of city property.

May 15 2013 at 5:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I love how people call alcoholism a disease. Go to a terminal cancer ward and tell those patients that alcoholism is a disease. Unlike cancer, it is a behavioral disorder which is cured when the alcoholic decides that they want to get better. And before anyone replies that I don't know what I'm talking about - trust me, I do.

May 15 2013 at 3:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If he gets off on this, I know what I'm going to do when I get a DUI, this case will make legal precedence for any DUI to get overturned.

May 15 2013 at 1:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to dennismlns's comment

sorry but its not the same he will get a dui but we will be the ones who pay. i live in Pennsylvania and the number of people on disability for this is astonishing to say the least. in the end they drink themselves to death then we pay to bury them its a sad state of affairs but one that is also more common than you think

May 15 2013 at 2:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Not really how setting precedence works. Also the dui was dismissed after he entered a court diversion program for first time offenders. Just fyi.

May 15 2013 at 3:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Former Officer Servo, you are disgrace to the badge, which I hope you will never wear again.

May 15 2013 at 1:34 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to dc2naz's comment

well depending on the place he might be able to go to rehab paid for by the city then get his job back. it sucks but thats what happens

May 15 2013 at 2:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Last thing I want is to need the police and have a drunk show up, a drunk with a gun is WORSE than a felon with a gun, at least the felon can shoot straight!!!

May 15 2013 at 1:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

what an entitled idiot.

April 28 2013 at 1:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Search Articles

Picks From the Web