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Drinking is a 'Handicap:' Florida State Exec Sues School for $75K

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on August 22, 2011 1:16 PM

Frank Stephenson, a former director of research communications at Florida State University, has sued the school alleging that he was wrongfully terminated once administrators were made aware of his battle with alcohol.

The FSU lawsuit, which is premised on the American's with Disabilities Act, requests $75,000 in damages, and claims that the university should have provided Stephenson with a reasonable accommodation for his "handicap of alcoholism."

The school learned of Stephenson's alcoholism when a subordinate complained of verbal abuse and mistreatment, pinning it to his after-hours drinking habit, according to the complaint.

Despite completing his job duties at a high level and having no history of such allegations, the FSU lawsuit alleges that he was fired as a result of his alcoholism.

Strangely enough, alcoholism is a disability under the ADA, meaning that employees cannot be fired for their alcohol dependence so long as they adequately complete their duties and the use of alcohol does not impact performance or conduct.

Alcoholics are also entitled to reasonable accommodations, though it's unclear what kind of reasonable accommodation was requested by Frank Stephenson, as the complaint makes no mention of such a request.

This may actually be a problem for Stephenson's suit.

Ordinarily, an employee must ask for a reasonable accommodation unless it's obvious to the employer that one is needed.

This, however, first requires that the employee suffer from a disability that impairs his ability to know of, and communicate a need for, an accommodation.

If Frank Stephenson was the stellar employee that the FSU lawsuit suggests, shouldn't he have known to ask despite his alcoholism?

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