Not every impairment is a disability under the Americans with Disabilities
Act. And without a "disability" within the meaning of the ADA,
there is no obligation to accommodate and there is no relief available
for termination of employment based on a claim of disability discrimination.
This was made clear by a recent 9
Circuit Court of Appeals
decision which held that a police officer with ADHD did not have a legally sufficient
"disability" to justify a claim under the ADA. That is because,
the court found, his "impairment" did not "substantially
limit" the major life activities of working or interacting with others.
Matthew Weaving was diagnosed with ADHD when he was six years old. At twelve,
he stopped taking medication, but had difficulty getting along with others
during his teen and adult years. He joined the Beaverton, Oregon police
force after passing all of his physical and mental exams. He did not disclose
his ADHD diagnosis or prior medications, believing he was no longer afflicted.
He stayed in Beaverton for about 10 years, but received much negative
feedback about his personality conflicts.
He joined the Hillsboro, Oregon, police force in 2006. He disclosed his
previous ADHD diagnosis and noted some of the personality conflicts that
had plagued him. Hillsboro offered him provisional employment, subject
to a medical evaluation. Weaving passed that evaluation, as well as another
one when he applied for promotion to sergeant. His superiors noted he
sometimes was perceived as arrogant or intimidating, but that he did his job well.
After a couple of incidents of conflict with his co-workers/ subordinates,
the city placed Weaving on administrative leave. While on leave, Weaving
came to the conclusion that ADHD might be the source of some of his troubles.
A doctor agreed that his ADHD might cause him to interact roughly with
co-workers, but that he could still be an "excellent" officer.
Weaving told the City that he should be reinstated with "all reasonable
accommodations," so that he might obtain treatment and improve his
The city conducted an investigation, and found that Weaver had serious
problems interacting with co-workers, and decided to discharge him. A
jury found the city violated the ADA by firing Weaving and awarded him
money damages, but not reinstatement. The Court of Appeals, reversed,
finding that Weaving was not "substantially limited" in the
major life activity of working.
Weaving also claimed substantial limitation in the major life activity
of interacting with others. The Ninth Circuit recognizes that as a major
life activity. But, reviewing its own and other courts' decisions,
the court said that merely failing to "get along" is not the
same as interacting.
It stated that "one who is able to communicate with others, though
his communications may at times be offensive, 'inappropriate, ineffective,
or unsuccessful,' is not substantially limited in his ability to interact
with others within the meaning of the ADA. To hold otherwise 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."
The takeaway: A diagnosis of ADHD by itself will most likely not support
an ADA claim. However, those who have a severe inability to relate to
others (such as those who cannot relate to anyone, rather than just co-workers),
would still be considered disabled under the court's standards. The
crucial element is proving that the medical condition's impairment
"substantially limits" one or more major life activities.