Cat-Feeding Police Officer Does Not Have A Disability

Sarah Fulcher was a police officer for the Police and Security Service of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salisbury, North Carolina. Her hire was subject to a one-year probationary period.

Shortly after she was hired, Fulcher was counseled by a sergeant for feeding stray cats, conducting personal business over her police radio, and failing to follow instructions. In September 2000, she was counseled for tardiness and difficulty taking directions. In February 2001, Fulcher received a written reprimand from the Police Chief because she had stored cat food at the hospital and continued to feed stray cats, had left a jumper cable battery box in the hospital parking lot, and because her supervisors were required to repeat instructions regarding job assignments and to confirm that she had, in fact, carried out those instructions.

Eventually, the Medical Center terminated Fulcher before the end of her probationary period. Fulcher responded with a lawsuit, contending that she was fired because of her attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
A federal court dismissed Fulcher’s lawsuit. The Court acknowledged that it was undisputed that Fulcher had a mental impairment potentially covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The Court found that Fulcher failed to allege that one or more major life activities were substantially limited by her ADHD.

As the Court assessed it, “Fulcher contends that the primary effect of her ADHD is to limit her ability to assimilate and respond quickly to information and instructions when they are spoken to her. She does not have difficulty learning and processing written information. Fulcher has successfully completed AA, BA and MA degree programs. Nor does her ADHD cause her to have difficulty carrying out physical tasks; she exercises, cleans house, and does yard work. In addition, she does volunteer work with an animal shelter and with homeless people. The evidence indicates that Fulcher does not have difficulty caring for herself, performing manual tasks, walking, sitting, hearing, sleeping, breathing, or learning.”

The Court found that there was no evidence that Fulcher was substantially limited in any major life activity – a core requirement for an individual to be protected by the ADA.

Fulcher v. Nicholson, 2005 WL 2313884 (M.D.N.C. 2005).

This article appears in the November 2005 issue