‘Cantankerous’ Officer Loses ADA Claims

Matthew Weaving, who worked for the Hillsboro Police Department in Oregon, was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder when he was a child. During the job application process, Weaving disclosed what he described as the “intermittent interpersonal communication issues” he experienced in a prior job as a police officer at the Beaverton Police Department. The Hillsboro Police Department offered Weaving provisional employment, contingent upon passing a psychological evaluation. During the evaluation, Weaving disclosed his childhood history of ADHD but did not believe at that time that ADHD continued to affect him.

Weaving was promoted to sergeant in April 2007. In his annual evaluation covering the period from May 2007 through April 2008, a lieutenant wrote that Weaving’s interactions with the public were professional and that he displayed empathy toward members of the public. The lieutenant wrote that Weaving’s communication style of “directness” came across to officers as “arrogant” and inspired fear, but that he personally did not have difficulties with Weaving. The lieutenant wrote that Weaving was aware of his communication issues and seemed willing to try new approaches.

Weaving’s interpersonal communications problems continued, and the City eventually placed him on administrative leave with pay. In May 2009, Weaving’s doctor sent a letter to the Police Chief stating that he had diagnosed Weaving as having ADHD. A day later, Weaving requested “all reasonable accommodations,” including reinstatement to his position as an active-duty sergeant.

The City conducted an independent medical evaluation of fitness for duty. Two doctors found Weaving fit for duty despite his ADHD diagnosis. Nonetheless, the City fired Weaving in December 2009.

Weaving sued the City in federal district court under the Amercans with Disabilities Act. He alleged that (1) the City fired him because he had an impairment that limited his ability to work or interact with others, and (2) the City fired him because it regarded him as disabled. A jury found that the City had terminated him because of his disability, and awarded him $75,000 in damages. The trial court awarded $232,143 in back pay, $330,807 in front pay, and $139,712 in attorney’s fees, but refused Weaving’s request for reinstatement because of “hostility and antagonism” between Weaving and members of the Department.

The federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the jury’s verdict. The problem, the Court found, was that Weaving could not show that his ADHD resulted in a “substantial limitation of a major life activity,” as required by the ADA.

Weaving first argued that the very fact that he was terminated showed that he was substantially limited in the major life activity of working. Not so fast, the Court held: “The record does not contain substantial evidence showing that Weaving was not limited in his ability to work compared to most people in the general population. On the contrary, there is evidence showing that Weaving was in many respects a skilled police officer. Weaving had developed compensatory mechanisms that helped him overcome ADHD’s impediments and succeed in his career. Weaving’s supervisors recognized his knowledge and technical competence and selected him for high-level assignments. In 2007, before receiving any treatment for adult ADHD, he was promoted to sergeant. In 2009, a psychologist and a physician/psychiatrist both deemed Weaving fit for duty as a police officer.

“Weaving also argues that he is disabled because his ADHD substantially limits his ability to interact with others. However, the evidence at trial showed that Weaving has experienced recurring interpersonal problems throughout his professional life. Those problems have had significant repercussions on his career as a police officer, resulting, most recently, in the termination of his employment.

“But Weaving’s interpersonal problems do not amount to a substantial impairment of his ability to interact with others within the meaning of the ADA. Weaving’s ADHD may well have limited his ability to get along with others. But that is not the same as a substantial limitation on the ability to interact with others. Weaving was able to engage in normal social interactions. His interpersonal problems existed almost exclusively in his interactions with his peers and subordinates. He had little, if any, difficulty comporting himself appropriately with his supervisors.

“A cantankerous person who has mere trouble getting along with coworkers is not disabled under the ADA. 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.”

Weaving v. City of Hillsboro, 763 F.3d 1106 (9th Cir. 2014).