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‘Tyrannical’ supervisor may be protected by ADA

A federal judge decided Thursday that an Oregon police sergeant whose interpersonal skills were impaired by Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder could proceed with his disability discrimination suit against his former employer.

Sergeant Matthew Weaving apparently didn’t have a lot of fans when he worked at the Hillsboro Police Department. According to Deputy Chief Chris Skinner, numerous colleagues described Weaving as “tyrannical, unapproachable, non-communicative, belittling and demeaning, threatening/intimidating, arrogant and vindictive.”

That’s a pretty long laundry list of faults which, if believed, would lead most employers to take some form of corrective action. Indeed, the city of Hillsboro was concerned enough to launch an internal affairs investigation. As a result of that disciplinary proceeding, the city terminated Weaving on Nov. 24, 2009.

Weaving sued Hillsboro under the Americans with Disabilities Act. You see, Weaving was diagnosed with ADHD as a child and he claims that his condition is at the root of his communication problems. According to Weaving, Hillsboro violated the ADA by failing to accommodate his medical condition, which he asserts could be treated with medication.

Weaving’s ADHD was brought up in Hillsboro’s internal affairs investigation. However, his bosses allegedly didn’t give the disorder much weight. In any event, the city argued in the lawsuit that Weaving wasn’t “disabled” within the meaning of the Act. 

Last week, U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez denied the city’s motion for summary judgment, ruling that “a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether [Weaving’s] ADHD substantially limits him in the major life activities of communicating with others and interacting with others.”

In concluding that Weaving’s disorder substantially limited a major life activity, the judge noted that the former police sergeant “offers evidence indicating his problems extend beyond just getting along with coworkers. For example, Plaintiff proffers evidence showing Lieutenant [Richard] Goerling observed that his behavior ‘demonstrate[d] complete failure of basic interpersonal relationship skills such as emotional and social intelligence that are embodied . . . generally in society.’ The allegations of hostility and lack of interpersonal skills described by Deputy Chief Skinner and Lieutenant Goerling raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Plaintiff is substantially limited in the major life activity of interacting with others.”

Moreover, the judge concluded that Weaving presented sufficient evidence to show that his former bosses regarded him as being disabled:

Deputy Chief Skinner testified he had been aware of “flaws” in Plaintiff’s “communication style and relationships” before the City had even hired Plaintiff and expressly testified that Plaintiff had issues concerning his “communication styles and/or lack of being able to connect/foster relationships with people or be relational in the way he communicated with people.” Based on these statements, a reasonable jury could find that the City regarded Plaintiff as disabled within the meaning of the ADA at the time the City had hired Plaintiff and held that same belief at the time it terminated him.

(Weaving v. City of Hillsboro

– Pat Murphy

patrick.murphy@lawyersusaonline.com

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