Monday, August 20, 2007

Suspended Bengal claims disability discrimination

The following is from the Cincinnati Bengal's website:
The attorney for Bengals linebacker Odell Thurman has filed a claim of disability discrimination against the NFL. John Michels said Thursday that he has notified the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that he feels his client is being discriminated against because he is perceived as an alcoholic.

Michels said it doesn't matter that Thurman acknowledged in court that he is an alcoholic when he appeared for a DUI stemming from a Sept. 25, 2006 traffic stop. He indicated that Thurman has passed all required programs stipulated by the league.

"He has not had an alcoholic problem since the incident last fall," Michels said.

The NFLPA has not yet responded to Thurman's request to appeal to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's July 26 decision to extend Thurman's year-long suspension for another year. Michels said if the EEOC finds for Thurman, the commission can offer such remedies as reinstatement and back pay.

Michels cited a recent precedent. The EEOC ruled in favor of Roy Tarpley, the former Dalllas Mavericks forward banned in 1995 for violating the league's substance abuse policy. The commission said the NBA violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it didn't reinstate Tarpley even though he had passed all drug tests taken in the last four years.

Michels said the Bengals are named in the claim only because they are Thurman's direct employers. He said the claim was not a Bengals decision and that the commission is aware that the suspension came from the NFL and not the club.

I'm not sure what to make of this claim. On the one hand, you have a new NFL commissioner try to put his stamp on the league as a no-nonsense disciplinarian. Then again, if Thurman has truly been clean and sober for the past year, and has complied with the terms of his suspension, it could appear that the NFL is punishing him for his addiction, and not past violations of league rules. My best guess is that the EEOC will dodge these tough issues and never reach the merits of the charge, because the entity imposing the discipline, the league itself, is not Thurman's "employer," and his employer, the Bengals organization, had nothing to do with the discipline.