Yes – the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that a police department made an objectively reasonable decision that an officer posed a direct threat and, therefore, was not qualified to do his job under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), based in part on the officer’s bizarre behavior.
In Michael v. City of Troy Police Department, the plaintiff was a police officer who began acting strangely after undergoing two brain surgeries for a brain tumor. No. 14-2478 (6th Cir. Dec. 14, 2015). In 2007, the department learned of the officer’s strange behavior after his wife reported that she found a box of empty steroid vials in his possession, some of which were labeled for veterinary use, and turned them in to the City’s Chief of Police. When the Chief of Police refused to return the steroid vials to the Plaintiff, the plaintiff began exhibiting a series of aberrant behaviors, including:
- Secretly recording the Chief of Police;
- Suing the Chief of Police in small claims court;
- Attempting to serve the Chief of Police with legal process at his retirement party;
- Secretly recording his wife during marriage counseling sessions and family gatherings;
- On the basis of those recordings, asking the City prosecutor to charge his wife with perjury; and
- Accompanying a cocaine dealer to several drug deals.
Following a third brain surgery in 2009, multiple doctors disagreed about whether the plaintiff was fit to work as a police officer. Two doctors concluded that it was not safe for him to work as a police officer, but others concluded that it was safe for him to return to work. The City decided to keep the plaintiff on unpaid leave and not to allow him to return to work. Thereafter, the plaintiff sued, alleging violations of the ADA.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the employer’s actions were objectively reasonable and did not violate the ADA. In reaching this conclusion, the court explained that it was not only reasonable for the employer to rely on the opinions of the two doctors who determined plaintiff was not fit for duty, but it was also reasonable for the employer to base its decision on the plaintiff’s bizarre behavior. The court concluded that based on the plaintiff’s behavior, it was “eminently reasonable” for the employer to be concerned about whether the plaintiff could safely perform his job duties. Because the employer’s decision that the employee posed a direct threat to the safety of himself or others was objectively reasonable, the court concluded that the employer did not violate the ADA by failing to return him to work.
Takeaway: The determination that an employee poses a direct threat to his or her own safety or the safety of others for purposes of the ADA may be based on evidence regarding the employee’s behaviors.