Common Sense Prevails: Being a Jerk Not a Disability

By lfsuser on August 29, 2014

Is an employee who attributes his/her interpersonal problems with his coworkers and inability to work to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? According to a recent ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal, that answer may be no.

On August 15, the 9th Circuit published a ruling in Weaving v. City of Hillsboro, a case in which a police officer alleged wrongful termination by the Hillsboro Police Department in violation of the ADA. The officer claimed that because of his disability (ADHD), he was unable to work and interact with his work colleagues, and was thus terminated. In a rare reversal of the jury verdict, the 9th Circuit disagreed and held that based on the evidence presented at the jury trial, ADHD did not substantially limit the officer’s ability to work or to interact with others.

The ADA forbids discrimination against a “qualified individual on the basis of disability.” A disability is defined as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of [the] individual [who claims the disability],” or “a record of such an impairment,” or “being regarded as having such an impairment.” The officer claimed that his disability substantially limited two major life activities: “working” and “ability to interact with others.”

Major Life Activity: Working

The Court was not convinced that the officer’s disability substantially limited his ability to work. In fact, the evidence showed that the officer was a skilled police officer – his supervisors recognized him as being knowledgeable and technically competent to perform his duties, he was selected for high-level assignments, he was promoted to sergeant, and a psychologist and a physician/psychiatrist both deemed the officer to be fit for duty.

Major Life Activity: Interacting with Others

The Court was also not convinced that the officer’s disability substantially limited him from interacting with his work colleagues. Specifically, the Court did not find the officer’s inability to interact with others was severe (i.e. high levels of hostility, social withdrawal, or failure to communicate when necessary). The Court distinguished an employee simply “not getting along” with coworkers as opposed to not being able to “interact” with people in general. The Court found that the officer did not show that he was unable to interact with people in general – while the officer’s interpersonal problems involved his peers and subordinates, he was able to engage in normal social interactions with his supervisors.

The Court does not close the door on all persons who claim a disability based on ADHD. In fact, the Court rarely reverses a jury verdict for an employee who asserts a claim for an ADA violation. A valid claim will be based on how the condition’s impairment “substantially limits” one or more major life activities (NOTE: the effects of medication are not relevant under California or federal law). If an employee has a severe disability that prevents them from relating to people in general (as opposed to just coworkers), he/she may still have a valid disability claim. On the other hand, an employee who simply acts like a jerk by being offensive or inappropriate at times is unlikely to have a valid disability claim under the ADA.

To read the Court’s decision, click here.

This document is intended to provide you with general information about legal developments. The contents of this document are not intended to provide specific legal advice. If you have questions about the contents of this alert, please contact Hannibal Odisho at 415-697-3463 or at hodisho@aghwlaw.com. This communication may be considered advertising in some jurisdictions.