Court Decisions Brief
A project of the Southeast ADA Center and Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University

Caporicci v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc.

Caporicci v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc.,
729 F. App’x 812 (11th Cir. 2018)

Keywords: ADA, Florida Civil Rights Act (FRCA), discrimination

Summary

Lisa Caporicci is a woman with bipolar disorder. She sued her former employer, Chipotle. Caporicci stated that Chipotle discriminated against her based on her disability. The District Court granted Chipotle summary judgment, which was then confirmed by the Court of Appeals.

Facts of the Case

Caporicci is a woman who has bipolar disorder. She was hired at Chipotle’s South Tampa location. Caporicci told her manager that she had bipolar disorder. Caporicci also told her manager that she was on medication for her bipolar disorder. Mr. Miesel, her manager, stated that this was “okay.”

Caporicci’s Nurse Practitioner placed her on new medication. The Nurse Practitioner wrote a note for her to be off work until June 3. Miesel gave her five days off work. She began the new medication immediately. The new medication made Caporicci feel tired, slow, and groggy. She returned to work. On June 7, 2013, Caporicci was late to work. She struggled to serve customers. Caporicci admitted to being very slow and incoherent. Miesel observed Caporicci’s actions and determined she was intoxicated. Miesel then sent her home. Caporicci explained, over the telephone, that her medication was the cause of her “intoxication.” Miesel then fired her.

Miesel says Chipotle has a zero tolerance policy for inebriation of any kind. Chipotle’s employee handbook includes two important parts. First, it prohibits workplace intoxication from any drug. Second, it requires that employees notify their manager if they take a prescription drug that may affect their ability to work in a safe manner.  In August 2014, Caporicci filed suit against Chipotle alleging discrimination against her due to her disability.

Issues of the Case

  1. Did Chipotle discriminated against Caporicci when they fired her for being intoxicated in the workplace?

Arguments & Analysis

1. Did Chipotle discriminated against Caporicci when they fired her for being intoxicated in the workplace?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prevents discrimination because of a disability. To claim discrimination under the ADA, an employee must: 1). have a disability, 2). show that they were qualified to perform the job and, 3). show they were discriminated against based upon the disability. If the employee can show these three things, then the employer must show a reason, other than discrimination, for its action.

Chipotle agreed that Caporicci had a disability. Chipolte agreed Caporicci was qualified to perform the job. Chipotle disagreed, however, that she was fired because of her disability.

Caporicci admitted she was fired for being “intoxicated” at work. She agreed that the new medication made her slow and incoherent. Chipotle claimed Caporicci was fired for violating the policy that says employees cannot be “at work under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or controlled substances.” This rule applies equally to all Chipotle employees. Therefore, her firing was not related to her disability.

The Court of Appeals wondered, however, if firing based on “disability related intoxication” could be disability-based discrimination under the ADA. This circuit (Eleventh) had not decided, and other circuits were split, on this matter. It was not addressed in this case because Caporicci did not raise this issue in the District Court.

Rulings

The Court of Appeals found that Caporicci violated the policy’s prohibition on workplace intoxication. This was Chipotle’s stated reason for firing her. Caporicci failed to prove otherwise.

Policy & Practice

The Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Chipotle. However, Caporicci should have argued that firing someone for disability related intoxication was discrimination under the ADA. There are real policy reasons as to why this firing should be unlawful under the ADA.  

Links

Disclaimer:

These materials do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon in any individual case. Please consult an attorney licensed in your state for legal advice and/or representation. These materials were prepared by the legal research staff of the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University in partnership with the Southeast ADA Center to highlight legal and policy developments relevant to civil rights protections and the impact of court decisions in the Southeast Region under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These materials are based on federal disability rights laws and court decisions in effect at the time of publication. Federal and state disability rights law can change at any time.  In addition, state and local laws and regulations may provide different or additional protections. Materials are intended solely as informal guidance, and are neither a determination of your legal rights nor responsibilities under the ADA or other federal, state, and local laws, nor binding on any agency with enforcement responsibility under the ADA. The accuracy of any information contained herein is not warranted. Any links to external websites are provided as a courtesy and are not intended to nor do they constitute an endorsement of the linked materials.

Southeast ADA Center

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