Brewery Seeks to Overturn Workers’ Comp Award
LANSING, Mich. (AP) _ The free beer that Stroh Brewery Co. provided to employees wasn’t to blame for a former worker’s alcoholism, a company attorney argued Wednesday in seeking to cut off workers’ compensation benefits for the man’s widow.
″He would have gotten it (alcoholism) someplace - all we did was save him a lot of money,″ Stroh attorney Myron Charfoos told the Michigan Supreme Court in oral arguments.
But attorney Norton Cohen, representing the widow of Casimer Gacioch, claimed workers’ compensation benefits were justified because Gacioch’s alcoholism was worsened by workplace conditions - free beer at lunch and work breaks.
″Mr. Gacioch had free beer accessible to him for 27 years,″ Cohen said. ″He was probably a pathological alcoholic by 1968 or ’69. It definitely aggravated the condition.″
Gacioch worked for the Detroit-based Stroh’s until 1974 when he was disabled because of alcoholism, according to Supreme Court records. He filed a workers’ compensation claim in 1977, alleging his problem was work-related because of Stroh’s free-beer policy.
An administrative law judge denied the claim, but the decision was reversed by the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board and the reversal was upheld by the state Court of Appeals.
After Gacioch’s death in 1982, the benefits went to his widow, Wanda.
But Charfoos contended Wednesday that alcoholism is ″an ordinary disease of life″ and not a result of workplace conditions.
″It was obvious he had been drinking for many, many, many years,″ he told the high court. ″Alcohol - free beer - was not part of the job description.″
″This is a bargained-for fringe benefit,″ Charfoos said of the free beer. He also said Gacioch violated an agreement to stop drinking the beer at work after his drinking problem became evident.
″Stroh’s did try to stop him from drinking on the job but was unsuccessful,′ ′ he said.
But Cohen said the Stroh policy of free beer was at least partially to blame for Gacioch’s alcoholism.
″There is no other industry where free beer is provided,″ he said.
A decision by the Supreme Court in the case could take months.