Three Sangrias at Dinner Doesn’t Warrant Dismissal

In 2012, tenured Chicago Public Schools Kindergarten teacher Kathleen Kinsella showed up to work, having enjoyed three sangrias at dinner the night before. She still smelled of alcohol when she arrived at school and was subjected to a Breathalyzer test. The test was conducted three hours after the smell of alcohol was first detected, and she registered just over a 0.05 blood-alcohol level.

The CPS Board dismissed her, and she appealed. The ISBE hearing officer ordered reinstatement, but the CPS Board overrode that decision, resulting in an appeal in court.

The Illinois Appellate Court hearing the case, Kinsella v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, et al., 2015 IL App (1st) 132694, noted the deference that is to be afforded to school boards in tenured teacher dismissal cases, but concluded that there simply was not enough evidence to support Ms. Kinsella’s dismissal. The key to its analysis was the CPS Board’s “Drug and Alcohol Free Workplace Policy,” which prohibited employees from being on school property while “under the influence of alcohol…” The Policy was clear that, to be “under the influence,” there had to be some evidence of an impairment.

Here, there was no evidence that Ms. Kinsella was impaired, only that she smelled of alcohol and registered a positive Breathalyzer test. The court concluded that the odor and positive test did not automatically prove an “impairment” or that the employee was “under the influence.” The evidence showed that the CPS Board did not truly practice “zero tolerance” when it came to alcohol cases, and Ms. Kinsella’s dismissal was overturned.

Contact Vanessa Clohessy or Cindi DeCola to discuss your alcohol-in-the-workplace or other tenured teacher discipline issues.

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