By Beth David, Editor
Jonathan Alves, a former Fairhaven police officer who was fired last March, has filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Boston. The suit alleges that Mr. Alves was wrongly fired for having an alcohol addiction, a condition considered a disability and protected by law.
Mr. Alves was one of four new recruits hired in 2015. He graduated from the police academy in August of 2015, when his one-year probationary period began. He was sworn in on August 25, and, according to an email by Town Administrator Mark Rees, “stopped working” on 4/1/16.
“Mr. Alves was terminated after confiding to a supervisor in the police department that he needed help and would be seeking treatment for alcohol addiction,” wrote Attorney Philip N. Beauregard in a press release. “Instead of assisting Mr. Alves with a Town Employee Assistance Program, or allowing him to return to work after undergoing private treatment, Town officials told Mr. Alves that he was ‘a long term liability’ to the Town and they demanded that he resign. When Mr. Alves declined to do so, Town Administrator Mark Rees and Police Chief Michael Myers terminated him.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Beauregard said that being on probation would not give the town the right to discriminate and fire someone because he or she is a minority or female, and a disability is afforded the same protection as ethnicity, sex or religion.
“Federal and state laws recognize protected classes who have the ability to bring legal action if they are discriminated against,” said Mr. Beauregard, adding that being disabled is a recognized class. “Alcoholism is a disabilitly, that’s a protected class.”
Fairhaven Town Administrator Mark Rees did confirm that Mr. Alves was on probation at the time of his termination. Mr. Rees would not, however, comment on the merits of the case, refusing to say if that argument would be made in court.
“There are aspects of the case that will be adjudicated,” he said.
Mr. Rees said that, in accordance with the Town Administrator Act, the department head, in this case police chief Michael Myers, initiates personnel action and the TA approves or does not approve the decision. He said that formula was followed for Mr. Alves’s case.
The lawsuit also claims damage to Mr. Alves’s reputation and ability to work in law enforcement because a “written allegation” in his record states that he had worked on the morning of March 18, 2016 while intoxicated.
“In fact, Mr. Alves was not intoxicated while on duty,” wrote Mr. Beauregard, adding that Mr. Alves worked in his cruiser for more than two hours before telling his supervisor about his alcolism.
According to the complaint, on that morning, Mr. Alves was late getting to work and admitted that he celebrated until late for St. Patrick’s Day. He was sent out on patrol and about two hours later was approached by his supervisor Sgt. Matthew Botelho, who asked Mr. Alves if he was ‘ok.’”
Mr. Alves became emotional and confided that he believed he was an alcholic, according to the complaint.
“Botelho responded by stating that the Town would help Plaintiff obtain assistance and services to address Plaintiff’s illness,” reads the complaint. “Botelho and Plaintiff then parted, each resumed his respective patrol in separate police cruisers.”
About an hour later, when asked if he was a “little intoxicated,” Mr. Alves said he was not, but was emotionally distraught after his conversation with Sgt. Botelho.
He left work “in his personal vehicle with Botelho’s consent and knowledge,” reads the complaint.
Mr. Alves successfully completed a treatment program, but was not allowed to return to work, according to the complaint. Instead, he received a termination letter.
“Now with the written fals pretextual reason that Plaintiff had performed his police duty on March 18, 2016 while intoxicated. Plantiff was not intoxicated; Defendants either knew or had full reason to know that he was not intoxicated,” reads the complaint. “These are allegations of criminal activities, if true. Defendants recklessly or intentionally stated these false allegations to cover their real purpose of not reasonably accommodating Plaintiff in dealing with his health disability — addiction to alcohol. Defendants then denied Plaintiffa hearing to rebut those allegations.”
“Defendants’ practices and treatment of Plaintiff have deprived him of equal employment opportunities and otherwise adversely affected his status as an employee because of his disability,” reads the complaint, and he continues to suffer loss of income, benefits and other losses, including emotional distress and mental suffering.
The complaint also notes that Mr. Alves was not granted a hearing to defend himself.
“Defendants’ actions have publicly branded Plaintiff as having been fÏred for a crime (i.e. carrying a firearm and driving a police cruiser while drunk). Plaintiff has not committed any crime. Despite this, he has been denied a public hearing to clear his good name. The denial has resulted in terrible damage to Plaintiffs reputation and good name.”
The suit does not specify an amount, but asks for compensatory damages; injunctive relief, including reinstatement to his position as a police officer; and punitive damages.
The next step is for the town to file an answer.
“He’s been sober and clean and has been looking for other work,” said Mr. Beauregard by phone. “He can’t get a job because this is in his personnel record. It’s a shame, it really is.”
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