Does Alcohol Dependency Qualify As a Disability Under Human Rights Law ?

In Riddick v. City of New York (4 AD3d 242, 772 N.Y.S.2d 294 [1d Dept 2004]), a New York City Police Department (NYPD) detective negotiated a plea agreement with NYPD for various disciplinary infractions, including an alcohol problem, that allowed the Police Commissioner to terminate him at any time for a violation of the agreement. After Detective Riddick violated the agreement he was terminated. Detective Riddick then commenced an Article 78 proceeding against the City, claiming discrimination because of his alcohol dependency. Detective Riddick had a substance problem that he was unsuccessful in solving by rehabilitation the Riddick Court instructed, at 245-246: Turning to the merits, we note that alcohol dependency qualifies as a disability under the Human Rights Law (Executive Law 292 [21] [a]). (See Matter of McEniry v. Landi, 84 NY2d 554, 559, 644 N.E.2d 1019, 620 N.Y.S.2d 328 [1994]). After a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case that the complained-of conduct was causally related to his or her disability, the burden shifts to the defendant to show that the disability prevents him or her "from performing the duties of the job in a reasonable manner or that the employee's termination was motivated by a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason" (id. at 558). Plaintiff's reliance on McEniry is misplaced. There, the Court of Appeals interpreted the Human Rights law to protect a rehabilitated or rehabilitating substance abuser from retroactive punishment by his or her employer. In finding for the petitioner, the Court of Appeals warned that "[o]ur holding is not intended to create a safe haven for individuals who resort to recovery programs as a pretext for avoiding otherwise legitimate disciplinary action, or do we imply that in every case where an alcoholic is purportedly rehabilitated all disciplinary action is prohibited" id. at 560).