It seems axiomatic that a disability discrimination claim requires the plaintiff to suffer from a disability.  In Johnson v. N.Y. State Office of Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Servs., No. 16-cv-9769 (RJS) (S.D.N.Y., March 13, 2018), a judge in the Southern District of New York dismissed a pro se plaintiff’s complaint for failure to allege that his alcoholism impaired a major life activity, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).

Plaintiff worked for the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (“OASAS”) as an Addiction Counselor Assistant. He filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination based upon his purported disability – alcoholism – under the ADA.  The court granted OASAS’ motion to dismiss finding Plaintiff failed to allege he suffered from a “disability” as defined under the ADA.  In other words, Mr. Johnson failed to allege:

  • he suffered from a physical or mental impairment that substantially limited one or more major life activities; or,
  • he had a “record of such an impairment”; or,
  • that he was “regarded as having such an impairment” by OASAS.

Mr. Johnson’s self-identification as a “recovering alcoholic,” without more, could not save his claim.  The court noted that “[a]lthough alcoholism is considered an ‘impairment’ under the ADA…more than a physical or mental impairment is required to satisfy the definition of disability.”  Specifically, the court held “a plaintiff who alleges that he is disabled must demonstrate not only that he…was actually addicted to drugs or alcohol in the past, but also that this addiction substantially limits one or more of his…major life activities.”  Mr. Johnson failed to do so.

This case serves as a great reminder that although the term “disability” is construed broadly under the law, whether an individual’s ailment is deemed a “disability” under the law still requires an individualized assessment.