Former Oregon police officer Jason Servo, who was fired for drunk driving in an unmarked police car while off-duty, is suing the city of Gresham asserting that his alcoholism is a disability recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“Just as with any type of disability or disease, they should have made some kind of effort to accommodate that, or some kind of effort to work with him, and not simply sever all ties,” one of his attorneys in the suit, Shawn Kollie said.
Alleging his rights were violated under the Americans with Disability Act, Servo, 43, says the city cannot fire him.
The ADA states an employer cannot make job decisions based on the fact that an employee is an alcoholic, but they can discipline or terminate an employee for not meeting standards of performance and conduct that they hold all employees to. It could be difficult for the city to prove performance and conduct was not met because Servo was off-duty at the time of the incident.
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Servo was arrested in January 2011, when he crashed his unmarked police car into a ditch while intoxicated. As the department’s lead firearms instructor, Servo had driven the car to nearby Troutdale for a training session and later joined other officers for dinner and drinks, according to the lawsuit filed late Thursday.
"This was a common practice among (Gresham) officers and had become an inherent part of the culture," the lawsuit said.
Servo, who was not hurt in the crash, pleaded guilty to drunk driving two months later. He then participated in and completed a diversion program and the DUI was dismissed. He also volunteered to participate an in-patient program at a drug and alcohol treatment center called Serenity Lane, where he was diagnosed as an alcoholic.
Servo claims stress on the job leads many officers to drink. "There were times where I went home and I couldn't get crime scenes out of my head; I went to drinking for that and there are other officers that do the same thing," he said Friday.
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The suit goes on to allege the police chief fired Servo in order to save money. "I know it sounds kind of like a conspiracy theorist's claim," Kollie said, "but we do believe there was a funding issue in the Gresham police department at the time."
The lawsuit is seeking $6 million in damages from the city of Gresham.