Friday, September 19, 2014

NO ADA Protection For Not Getting Along Well With Others

In Weaving v. City of Hillsboro, a police sergeant brought suit against the city following his termination for interpersonal problems.  The city had conducted an internal investigation, which found that the sergeant created a hostile work environment for his coworkers and employees.

The sergeant alleged that his behavior was caused by his ADHD, which he claimed substantially limited his ability to work and interact with others.   He alleged that the termination was a violation of the ADA, as it was based on his ADHD disability.

The jury found in favor of the sergeant, and the district court upheld that verdict.  On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that as a matter of law, the ADHD did not substantially limit the officer’s ability to work or interact with others under the ADA.  The Ninth Circuit found that the sergeant failed to produce evidence that his ADHD affected his ability to work, noting strong evidence of his technical competence as a sergeant.  As for the sergeant’s interpersonal problems, the Ninth Circuit found that not getting along with others was not enough to be considered a substantial impairment of his ability to interact.  Weaving v. City of Hillsboro, No. 12-35726 (9th Cir. August 15, 2014).

The Seventh Circuit has historically found that interacting with others, alone, is not a sufficient major life activity under the ADA.  In Emerson v. N. States Power Co., a customer service employee who had a brain injury was terminated for her panic attacks and a bad relationship with her supervisor.  She brought suit against her employer, alleging that her termination was in violation of the ADA.  She claimed, amongst others, that interacting with others was a major life activity that her brain injury impaired.  However, the employee offered nothing to support this claim and the court, instead, decided to consider the way interacting with others fed into the major life event of learning and working.  Due to the nature of the employee’s job, the court found in favor of the employer since the employee posed a considerable risk to the safety or health of others. Emerson v. N. States Power Co., 256 F.3d 506 (7th Cir. 2001).

While in Palmer v. Circuit Court of Cook Cnty., Ill., a caseworker was terminated after she made threats against a supervisor.  Despite not having any work-related issues in the past, the caseworker was convinced that this supervisor was working against her and she suffered from paranoia and depression as a result. The caseworker brought suit against her employer, alleging that she was terminated because of her mental illness, a violation of the ADA.  The court found in the employer’s favor, holding that the caseworker was terminated because of her threats of violence against another employee, not because of her mental illness. The ADA does not protect an employee who simply does not get along with their supervisor and then acts out as a result. Although the employer must make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s disability without suffering an undue hardship, such duty does not apply when an employee commits or threatens acts of violence because they can’t get along.  Palmer v. Circuit Court of Cook Cnty., Ill., 117 F.3d 351 (7th Cir. 1997).

Employers be alert and be cautious. A vendetta against a co-worker or disruption in the workplace, even if based or fueled by a disability under the ADA, need not be accepted. But, since every case is different, consult your attorneys before taking action against employees with known disabilities.