This isn’t the first lawsuit we’ve seen in the US regarding airline pilots and alcohol, but it is one of the more unusual ones.
Lawsuit over United Airlines’ Alcoholics Anonymous treatment
As noted by Paddle Your Own Kanoo, United Airlines is facing a lawsuit over a pilot being forced to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. The incident involves David Disbrow, a Newark-based senior United Airlines captain who has been at the airline for over 30 years.
In 2017 he was diagnosed with having a substance abuse problem. He entered an alcohol treatment program in 2018, as his license was suspended by the FAA, pending successful completion of treatment.
He entered an Alcoholics Anonymous treatment intended specificallyfor pilots. Required treatments were held in churches and began with prayers. Furthermore, there were references to a Christian God, and also to a “greater power.”
This wasn’t in line with Disbrow’s beliefs as a Buddhist. He did some research and found Refuge Recovery, which is described as “a non-profit organization that believes Buddhist principles and practices create a strong foundation to recover from addiction.”
He asked to be able to use this for his treatment instead. According to the lawsuit, the airline rejected his request.
As a result, Disbrow filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunities Commission, which sided with the pilot and agreed that this program was discriminatory in nature. The organization filed a lawsuit on his behalf, requesting that he be able to get his job back by attending Refuge Recovery instead of Alcoholics Anonymous.
My questions about this situation
Some people will no doubt say “well, the US is ridiculous, and people sue over everything.” While that’s often true, I do think there’s merit to this in general:
- Ultimately treatment is intended to help someone with their problems, and if it’s going to work long-term, someone needs to genuinely buy into the message
- While AA isn’t explicitly Christian, it is based on the belief that there is a God, and that you need to put your life in his hands
- How is someone supposed to sincerely benefit from treatment and heal if they don’t believe one of the core pillars on which the treatment is based?
- From United’s perspective, I can understand how the airline presumably has to “certify” specific programs as satisfying the requirement for treatment, and that this presumably wouldn’t have been an instant process for Refuge Recovery; still, it seems there should be an option for treatment for those who don’t believe in a God
A lawsuit was filed over a United Airlines pilot who had to attend an alcohol treatment program. However, as a Buddhist he wasn’t happy with the frequent mentions of the Christian religion.
If a treatment option is intended to give someone the strength to overcome a serious problem, I can see how exclusive references to other religions — especially ones with beliefs very different than your own — may not be well received.
I’m curious to see what comes of this case…