Detention Deputy Loses ADHD Disability Claim

James Johnson was a detention deputy for the Sedgwick County, Kansas Sheriff’s Department. When the County terminated him for repeatedly falling asleep at work, he filed a lawsuit under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), contending that he was illegally fired for his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

A federal court trial judge rejected Johnson’s lawsuit, finding he had failed to establish that he had a “disability” as defined by the ADA. The judge ruled that “Johnson offers nothing to substantiate the contention that his ADHD condition amounts to a disability under the ADA. Merely asserting that he has been diagnosed with the condition does not establish a disability. To qualify as disabled under this first ‘substantial limits’ prong, one must do more than allege a physical or mental impairment. The impairment must have a ‘substantially limiting’ effect on a major life activity.

“Even if Johnson could establish a disability within the meaning of the ADA, he has failed to cite evidence that some reasonable accommodation of the disability would have allowed him to perform the essential functions of a detention deputy. Johnson does not challenge the proposition that visual monitoring of inmates is an essential requirement for a jail deputy, and that an inability to stay awake would prevent a deputy from performing this function. Johnson says other employees were sometimes given light-duty assignments as an accommodation for injury, and he argues that he could have worked in the jail lobby rather than monitoring inmates in the pods. While a temporary assignment to light duty would likely have been feasible, an employer is not required to accommodate an employee by creating what amounts to a new position. Assuming Johnson’s propensity for falling asleep at work was a symptom of a disability, as he contends, then the symptom rendered him unable to perform one of the essential functions of a detention deputy.”

Johnson v. Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Dept., 2011 WL 2746716 (D. Kan. 2011).

This article appears in the December 2011 issue.