Court Rules That Termination for Drinking at Work Was Too Harsh a Penalty

Last week an upstate trial court granted petitioner’s request to undo his termination for drinking on the job.  The decision is Peterson v. City of Poughkeepsie.

Petitioner Carleton Peterson was employed by the City of Poughkeepsie as a Street Supervisor.  On Christmas Eve 2009,

while working his shift from 7:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., petitioner was observed at an establishment known as “Andy’s Place” consuming a beer and a shot of liquor from approximately 1:40 p.m. until 2:40 p.m., at which point petitioner returned to work. … [P]etitioner admitted to consuming alcohol during his work hours. Additionally … petitioner failed to perform work during work hours and falsely reported his work hours, in that he exceeded his thirty (30) minute lunch break without so indicating upon his time card.

The court leniently held:

The facts of this matter and the charges …, while serious, do not fit the penalty of termination. … Th[e] one hour time frame [in which petitioner was observed drinking] has now cost petitioner his job and his benefits associated with the position. While this Court recognizes that the petitioner committed a serious infraction, the penalty of termination of his employment is so disproportionate to the offense committed as be shocking to one’s sense of fairness. .. There is simply no evidence before this Court that the petitioner during his nineteen (19) years of employment with respondent had presented a disciplinary problem or that the incident was anything but isolated.

It therefore remitted the matter to the City “for the imposition of a lesser penalty.”

Of course, this decision should not be read as an endorsement of on-the-job-drinking, and the penalty reduction must be understood in the precise factual context in which it arose. That said, it shows that termination is not always the appropriate “punishment” that fits the “crime.”

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