Matthew Weaving was diagnosed with hyperkinetic activity, now known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), at the age of six. He stopped taking medication at age twelve because he seemed to have outgrown the symptoms, though he continued to experience interpersonal problems.
Weaving joined the Beaverton police department as a police officer in 1995. His evaluations at Beaverton identified interpersonal issues (such as aloofness, intimidating behavior and being outspoken). Weaving was hired by the Hillsboro Police Department in 2006. At the time he was hired, Weaving disclosed his childhood history of ADHD, but did not believe at that time that he ADHD continued to affect him.
Weaving applied for a promotion to sergeant in 2007. Weaving was required to take a "psychological leadership assessment" conducted by a psychologist as part of the application process, but did not mention ADHD during the process. Weaving was promoted in April 2007.
According to Weaving's subordinates, Weaving had interpersonal difficulties, and could be demeaning and intimidating. He referred to some officers as "salad eaters" to imply that they were weak, and criticized the language skills of a newly hired Latino officer. In 2009, Weaving wrote a several-page disciplinary letter to a subordinate for driving a marked police vehicle through a surveillance area, and verbally rebuked the officer over the open radio. When the officer filed a grievance the department placed Weaving on administrative leave pending investigation.
According to Weaving, it occurred to him while he was on leave that some of his interpersonal difficulties may be due to ADHD. He saw a clinical psychologist, Dr. Monkarsh, who testified at trial that people with ADHD have difficulties understanding their emotions, regulating their emotions, understanding the emotions of others, and empathizing. Dr. Monkarsh sent a letter to the Hillsboro Chief of Police stating that he had diagnosed Weaving with ADHD. Weaving provided this letter to Human Resources and requested "all reasonable accommodations," including reinstatement.
The lieutenant who investigated the grievance against Weaving conducted interviews with 28 employees of the police department and concluded that Weaving had created and fostered a hostile work environment for his peers and subordinates. The investigator recommended that the City evaluate Weaving's fitness for duty. Two doctors found Weaving fit for duty despite his ADHD diagnosis. The City terminated Weaving's employment, citing Weaving's interpersonal problems and their effect on the Department.
Weaving sued the City alleging that it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by terminating his employment because (1) he had an impairment that limited his ability to work or interact with others and (2) it regarded him as disabled. The jury found that Weaving was disabled under the ADA and that the City had terminated his employment because of his disability. The district court awarded $232,143 in back pay, $330,807 in front pay, and $139,712 in attorney's fees. The City filed a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law and a motion for new trial, which the district court denied. The City appealed, and the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed.
The ADA forbids discrimination against a qualified individual on the basis of disability. A disability under the ADA is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities include communicating and working. An impairment that substantially limits one major life activity need not limit other major life activities in order to be considered a disability.
Weaving argued that he was substantially limited in the major life activities of working and interacting with others. The Court analyzed the evidence and held that the record did not contain substantial evidence showing that Weaving was limited in his ability to work compared to most people in the general population. Rather, the evidence showed that Weaving was, in many respects, a skilled police officer. He received a promotion to sergeant and other special assignments. Thus, the Court held that the jury could not reasonably have concluded that Weaving's ADHD substantially limited his ability to work.
Weaving also argued he was disabled because his ADHD substantially limited his ability to interact with others. The Court noted that the Ninth Circuit specifically recognizes interacting with others as a major life activity. However, the limitation must be severe, and "mere trouble getting along with coworkers is not sufficient to show a substantial limitation." In previous cases in which the Ninth Circuit has recognized this limitation, the plaintiffs were so severely impaired that they were essentially housebound.
In this case, the evidence showed that Weaving had interpersonal problems, but that these problems existed almost exclusively in his interactions with peers and subordinates. He was otherwise able to engage in normal social interactions. While Weaving's ADHD may have limited his ability to get along with others, that is not the same as a substantial limitation on his ability to interact with others. Thus, the Court held that Weaving's interpersonal problems did not amount to a substantial impairment of his ability to interact with others within the meaning of the ADA and the district court erred when it denied the City's motion for judgment as a matter of law.
This case was decided under the ADA and not the California Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"). Under the FEHA, an employee need only show that they suffer from an impairment that "limits" a major life activity rather than the more stringent "substantial" limits language contained in the ADA. Accordingly, it is possible that under the FEHA, Weaving's ADHD may have been found to have "limited" the major life activity of interacting with others. However, the Court pointed out that to hold that an employee is disabled because the employee may at times have interpersonal issues would expose employers to potential liability if the employer took adverse employment actions against ill-tempered employees who create a hostile workplace environment for their colleagues. Agencies are urged to seek legal assistance anytime an employee claims misconduct is caused by an alleged disability.
Weaving v. City of Hillsboro (9th Cir. 2014) __ F.3d __ [2014 WL 3973411].