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Active Alcoholism Not a Protected Disability for Employment Purposes in North Carolina
Description Appeals court held that an at-will employee dismissed for active alcoholism had no cause of action against his employer for disability discrimination since the statute in North Carolina expressly listed that condition as not being protected in the employment relationship.
Topic Employment Discrimination
Key Words Disability; Alcoholism
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts McCullough was an at-will employee of Branch. He testified that he abused alcohol, which at times made him late for work due to hangovers. He was arrested several times for public intoxication and charged three times for Driving While Impaired. He was then arrested for driving while his license was revoked, which Branch learned of from a newspaper article. Branch told McCullough that he should seek help and that his medical plan would cover expenses and that he could use leave time for rehabilitation. Branch told him that if there were further problems from alcohol use, he would be fired. McCullough was again arrested for driving while his license was revoked. Branch, concerned about his trustworthiness as a bank employee, fired him. McCullough sued for wrongful termination in violation of public policy on the basis of his disability, alcoholism, in violation of North Carolina law against disability discrimination. The trial court held for Branch. McCullough appealed.
Decision Affirmed. As an at-will employee, McCullough could be dismissed at any time, but may not be fired for an unlawful purpose that violates public policy, such as for a disability. Active alcoholism is not a disability for which an employee receives protection from discrimination under the North Carolina law against disability discrimination. An "active alcoholic" is not defined by law, so the ordinary meaning will be employed, which is a person who is currently engaged in the use of alcohol or was in the immediate past engaged in the use of alcohol.
Citation McCullough v. Branch Banking & Trust Co., Inc., 524 S.E.2d 569 (Ct. App., N.C., 2000)

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