The Ninth Circuit recently ruled in Mayo v. PCC Structurals that a depressed employee who was fired for threatening to kill his co-workers was not entitled to protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Ninth Circuit has jurisdiction over California, as well as other western states.

The employee was a welder for a company that manufactured specialized airplane parts. He was diagnosed with major depressive disorder in 1999. He began taking medication and other treatments, which allowed him to continue working without any incidents until 2010. In 2010, he began to feel bullied by his supervisor. He told three co-workers on separate occasions that he wanted to kill his supervisor. He told one co-worker that he wanted to bring a shotgun to work and blow the heads off of the supervisor and another manager. Another co-worker was told that he wanted to bring a gun to work and start shooting people at 1:30 p.m. because by that time all of his supervisors would be at work, so he could kill more of them than at other times.

The man’s co-workers reported the threats to the employer. He was questioned by HR representatives and he told them that he could not guarantee that he would not carry out the threats. He was immediately suspended from work and his company called the police. The police took him into custody for six days on the basis that he was an imminent threat to himself and others.

After he was released, he spent two months out of work on Family and Medical Leave Act time off. His psychologist and a nurse practitioner cleared him to return to work. They suggested that he be assigned a different supervisor. The company instead fired him.

The employee sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, claiming that his threats were the result of his major depressive disorder and that the company failed to accommodate him. The lower court ruled in favor of the employer, and the employee appealed.

The Ninth Circuit upheld the lower court’s ruling, finding that the man was not a “qualified” individual under the Americans with Disabilities Act because he could not perform the essential functions of his job. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against “qualified employees or applicants” who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job in question.

The Ninth Circuit found that one of the essential functions of the job was the ability to handle stress and interact with others. A man who threatens the lives of co-workers in explicit detail on several occasions cannot appropriately handle stress and interact with others. Even when threats can be traced back to a disability, the employee’s inability to handle stress means he is unable to perform essential job functions. Several other courts have issued similar decisions that ruled that employers cannot be forced to choose between accommodating a disability and creating an unsafe workplace for other employees.

Although employers are legally required to offer reasonable accommodation to disabled employees or applicants, accommodation is only required where employees or applicants are otherwise qualified for the job. If they cannot perform essential job functions, even with the accommodation, an employer does not have to provide them with a job.

If you are a disabled employee in the Oakland-San Francisco area and you believe that you have been illegally discriminated against, call Micha Star Liberty, Oakland disability discrimination attorney at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000. She will provide you with a free consultation on your case, and you pay nothing until she obtains a recovery for you. Call today to learn more.

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