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Inpatient treatment for alcoholism enough to prove disability to court

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Workers alleging disability discrimination generally have to show that they have a condition that substantially limits a major life function. But they don’t necessarily have to drag a doctor into court. They can prove a condition such as alcoholism by showing that they underwent inpatient treatment and suffered withdrawal symptoms while there.

Recent case: When Julie was arrested for public intoxication, she immediately entered an inpatient alcohol treatment program. Her employer fired her for absenteeism during treatment.

She sued, alleging both FMLA and ADA violations. She told the court she couldn’t call in during the first seven days in treatment because she was not allowed outside contact.

She went on to describe going through detox and having withdrawal symptoms. She explained that before her arrest, she fre­­quently drank a half-gallon of ­alcohol at night.

When a jury sided with Julie, her employer appealed. It argued that Julie had never presented medical evidence that she had been diagnosed with alcoholism and therefore hadn’t proven either that she was disabled or had a serious health condition under the ADA or the FMLA.

The court disagreed. It said the jury was free to conclude from her description of her drinking habits and her hospitalization that she had been an alcoholic and that the condition substantially limited major life functions like taking care of herself. (Diaz v. Saucon Valley Manor, et al., No. 13-4340, 3rd Cir., 2014)

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