A Texas ExxonMobil employee recently filed suit claiming that a company-sponsored drinking event was to blame for his recent DUI.

James Jones, who had worked for ExxonMobil since 2008, was working a late-night shift on a project in California. On April 10, he was summoned to an all-employee meeting called a "Stand Down Safety Meeting." Jones alleges the real purpose of the meeting was to drink.

Following the event, James drove back to his hotel. While stopped at a red light, he placed his car in park and went to sleep. He was arrested and received a citation for driving while intoxicated. Days later, he was fired for violating company policy. He attempted to resign instead of being terminated, a move ExxonMobil would not allow.

Jones, who is black, is also alleging racial discrimination and that his civil rights were violated because he feels his race led him to be treated unfavorably. He is seeking damages for a host of causes, including lost earnings, loss of earning capacity, mental anguish, embarrassment, pain and suffering, inconvenience, medical expenses, punitive damages and attorney's fees and interest.

While the case has yet to go to trial, it serves as a cautionary tale for both employers and employees. Events like happy hours and champagne celebrations are meant to be lighthearted and fun events, but they can quickly and easily get out of hand, leading to problems for both employees who have to commute home and employers, who may face liability for furnishing the alcohol or over-serving intoxicated employees.

Source: The Southeast Texas Record, "Terminated employee claims drinks at company event led to DUI," Michelle Keahey, 6 June 2011.