Although the Americans with Disabilities Act offers relatively broad protection to employees, an employee must still prove that his or her disability substantially impairs one or more life activities. A police officer with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) lost his ADA Case on appeal because the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that his impairment stemmed not from his disability but from his being a “cantankerous” person.
Matthew Weaving, a police officer in Oregon, had suffered from ADHD since childhood. Weaving’s colleagues and superiors often described him aloof, abrasive, and intimidating. Despite his behavior, Weaving had risen to the rank of sergeant with the Hillsboro Police Department by 2008. However, after a confrontation with a subordinate officer, the department placed him on leave. While away from work, the officer consulted a medical professional, and the doctor determined that he had adult ADHD. Weaving returned to the police department and requested a disability accommodation based upon his ADHD.
The department declined. Several months later, the department fired Weaving.
The employee sued for violations of the ADA and won at the trial court level, with a jury awarding him $500,000 in damages. However, the city appealed, and the appeals court ruled that the employee did not have a case. Although working and interacting with others are major life activities under the ADA, according to 9th Circuit case law, the appeals court rejected the employee’s contention that his problems constituted the sort of impairment covered by the ADA, since they were not sufficiently substantial.
Weaving’s case was different from previous ones where the employee prevailed, according to the court. In two cases, the employees’ impairments triggered panic attacks and extreme avoidance of human interaction to such extraordinary extents as to make them nearly housebound. Weaving was able to engage in normal social interactions and generally got along well with his superiors. His problems were limited to interactions with peers and subordinates. In short, the appeals court appeared to conclude that the employee’s fundamental problem was not his ADHD, but that he was a bully. A “‘cantankerous person’ who has ‘[m]ere trouble getting along with coworkers’ is not disabled under the ADA,” the court stated.
Had Weaving been a California employee, not an Oregon one, his case might have ended differently. Under the ADA, an employee must show that his or her disability substantially limits his or her ability to perform one or more major life activities. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act requires only that the employee prove that his or her disability limits a major life activity. This standard established by California state law is lower than the one erected by federal law, meaning that if Weaving had worked in California and sued under the FEHA, the judgment in his favor might have survived.
The law provides clear protections for employees who must deal with disabilities. If your employer has failed to accommodate your disability or has retaliated against you for reporting your disability, your employer may be in violation of the law. For clear, helpful answers to your questions about disability discrimination in the workplace, contact the Oakland employment law attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch. Our employment law attorneys can help you better understand your rights and options under both California and federal law. Contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-1073 to schedule a confidential initial consultation today.
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