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Posted on Monday, March 02, 2015

Cantankerous Employee With ADHD Not Considered Disabled

A police officer in Oregon who had trouble getting along with his fellow officers was described in his performance reviews as “abrasive,” “intimidating,” and “overly aggressive.”  After a subordinate officer filed a grievance against him for poor treatment, the police officer was suspended.  During the ensuing investigation, the police officer provided a diagnosis from a clinical psychologist that he suffered from adult ADHD which led to his poor interpersonal skills.  He requested “all reasonable accommodations” to help him cope better in the workplace.  But the police force found that his ADHD diagnosis was no excuse for causing a hostile work environment, and terminated him.The police officer sued for disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), claiming that he was fired because he had the disability of ADHD which limited his ability to get along with others in the workplace.

The police offer did win at trial and was awarded over three quarters of a million dollars as damages, but a federal appeals court recently reversed that sizable jury award after concluding that the police officer was not disabled as that term is defined under the ADA.  The appeals court drew a distinction between an inability to “get along” with others and the inability to “interact” with others, and that only the latter could rise to the level of a disability.  The court found that the police officer did have trouble getting along with his co-workers, but there was no evidence that he suffered from social withdrawal or problems with communication that would severely impact his ability to interact with others to merit protection under the ADA.

A word of caution: This case does not stand for the proposition that adult ADHD is not a disability under the ADA.  Rather, the courts are clear that employers must consider the facts and circumstances of each particular employee when making this determination.

Declan Leonard is managing partner of the Washington, DC regional business law firm Berenzweig Leonard, LLP. He can be reached at DLeonard@BerenzweigLaw.com.

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