August 13, 2015
by Rebecca Watkins

A Disabled Employee is no Longer Qualified for Job When He Makes Threats

rebecca_watkinsIn Mayo v PCC Structurals, Inc. (July 28, 2015), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed that an employee who makes threats of violence against co-workers can be terminated without violating the ADA or Oregon’s disability law.  A few employees, including Mayo, began to have problems with a supervisor.  HR investigated the complaints and shortly after meeting with HR, Mayo made comments to several coworkers about wanting to blow the heads off the supervisor and another manager.  These comments were eventually reported to HR, who then met with Mayo.  When asked if he planned to carry out his threats, he responded that he couldn’t guarantee that he wouldn’t.  Mayo was immediately suspended and banned from the premises.  A police officer followed up with Mayo, who admitted to the threats and to owning several guns, although he hadn’t decided what gun to use.  Mayo consented to going to the hospital for evaluation and remained in custody for several days.  He eventually treated for depression and applied for leave under OFLA/FMLA.  When released back to work, PCC terminated his employment.  Mayo sued for discrimination under ADA and Oregon disability laws.

The trial court and the Ninth Circuit agreed the lawsuit should be dismissed on summary judgment.  The Ninth Circuit held that even if the threats stemmed from the disability, those threats made Mayo unqualified for his job.  The court recognized that interactions with coworkers are essential job functions for almost every job, and any other ruling would force employers to choose between violating the ADA and creating an unsafe workplace.  This decision makes sense, and follows rulings in several other courts across the country.  It is a good confirmation that employers do not have to risk workplace violence when employees make threats, even when those threats stem from mental illness.

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