Termination of Police Officer Whose ADHD Limits Ability to Get Along With Others Does Not Violate ADA, Ninth Circuit Says

In Weaving v. City of Hillsboro (--- F.3d ----, C.A.9 (Or.), August 15, 2014), the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was asked to decide whether, consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the city employer properly terminated the employee, a police officer, who had recurring interpersonal problems with his colleagues that were attributable to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”).

Background

Matthew Weaving ("Weaving") was an officer with the Hillsboro Police Department (“HPD”) from 2006 to 2009.  He had been diagnosed with ADHD when he was six years old.  During his employment as an officer with the HPD, Weaving’s communication style was described in personnel evaluations as “arrogant” and “inspiring fear.”  Colleagues described him as demeaning and intimidating.  A 2009 investigation of a grievance filed against him concluded Weaving had created and fostered a hostile work environment for his subordinates and peers and described him as tyrannical, unapproachable, non-communicative, belittling, demeaning, threatening, intimidating, arrogant, and vindictive.  Following this investigation, the city terminated his employment.

Weaving sued alleging the city fired him because he had an impairment (ADHD) that limited his ability to work and interact with others.  After trial, the jury returned a verdict for Weaving and awarded him damages in the amount of $75,000.  The trial court awarded an additional amount of $232,143 in back pay, $330,807 in front pay, and $139,712 in attorney’s fees.

Decision

On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed the trial court’s judgment and award of damages to Weaving. 

The appellate court held that Weaving’s ADHD did not substantially impair his ability to work.  The court found “strong evidence” that Weaving was a technically competent officer.  The court also found that Weaving’s interpersonal problems did not amount to a substantial impairment of his ability to interact with others within the meaning of the ADA.  While Weaving’s ADHD may have limited his ability to get along with others, this was not synonymous with a finding he was substantially limited in interacting with others.  Consistent with earlier decisions by the Ninth Circuit, the court in this case ruled that “[s]ome unfriendliness with coworkers or a supervisor would not, standing alone, be sufficient to establish a substantial limitation in interacting with others.”  To hold otherwise, the court found, would be to expose to potential ADA liability employers who take adverse employment actions against ill-tempered employees who create a hostile workplace environment for their colleagues.

What This Means To You

This case provides employers with strong support for disciplining employees whose improper conduct toward coworkers creates a hostile work environment.  The inability to get along with coworkers does not create a substantial impairment of the major life activity of working and is not synonymous with an inability to interact with colleagues which may, in fact, constitute a disability under the ADA.

 

Topics:  ADA, Employer Liability Issues, Hiring & Firing, Hostile Environment, Termination

Published In: Civil Procedure Updates, Civil Rights Updates, Labor & Employment Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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