discrimination harassment retaliation

Employee Threatening to Kill Co-workers Not a Qualified Individual With a Disability

Although Timothy Mayo was diagnosed in 1999 with major depressive disorder, medication and treatment enabled him to work for CC Structurals, Inc. without significant incident for many years. In 2010, however Mayo and some co- workers began to have issues with a supervisor who they claimed was bullying them and making work life miserable. In response to a complaint, HR met with Mayo and another employee about the supervisor’s behavior.

According to the court:

Shortly after the meeting, Mayo made threatening comments to at least three co-workers. He told one that he “fe[lt] like coming down [to PCC] with a shotgun an[d] blowing off” the heads of the supervisor and another manager. The co-worker need not worry, Mayo explained, because she would not be working the shift when the killing would occur. Mayo told another co-worker on several occasions that he planned to “com[e] down [to PCC] on day [shift] . . . to take out management.” He told a third co- worker that he “want[ed] to bring a gun down [to PCC] and start shooting people.” He explained that “all that [he] would have to do to shoot [the supervisor] is show up [at PCC] at 1:30 in the afternoon” because “that’s when all the supervisors would have their walk-through.”

The co-workers, presumably concerned for their safety and the safety of others, reported Mayo’s comments. The employer suspended Mayo after they asked him if he planned on carrying out his threats and he responded that “he couldn’t guarantee he wouldn’t do that.” PCC also notified the police, who questioned Mayo and had him admitted to a psychiatric facility because Mayo, a gun owner, admitted to making the threats and that he had “two or three people in mind,” including his supervisor.

Mayo remained in custody for six days, then took leave under the Oregon Family Leave Act and the Family Medical Leave Act for two months.  Mayo’s doctor cleared Mayo to return to work, indicating Mayo was not a violent person, but recommended Mayo receive a different supervisor.  PCC did not return Mayo to work because, according to PCC, Mayo would not—or could not—guarantee to refrain from similar threats in the future.

Mayo sued PCC contending his termination violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Oregon’s state-equivalent.  The trial court granted PCC’s motion for summary judgment contending “Mayo was no longer a ‘qualified individual’ once he made his ‘violent threats.’ And ‘[b]ecause Mayo [wa]s not a qualified individual,’ he was not ‘entitled to protection under the ADA and Oregon’s disability discrimination statute.’  The appellate court agreed.

Qualified Individual with a Disability

The court determined Mayo could not even make out a prima facie case of discrimination because Mayo was not a “qualified individual” with a disability.  Under both the ADA and Oregon’s analogous law, “an individual is qualified for a position if the individual, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the position.”  The court pointed out that an essential function of almost every job is the ability to appropriately handle stress and interact with others. Citing Williams v. Motorola, Inc., 303 F.3d 1284, 1290 (11th Cir. 2002). “[W]hile an employee can be qualified despite adverse reactions to stress, he is not qualified when that stress leads him to threaten to kill his co-workers in chilling detail and on multiple occasions (here, at least five times).”

Thankfully, workplace threats are not a common occurrence.  When a person’s threatening behavior stems from an underlying medical condition, an employer is faced with two opposing duties: The duty to provide a safe and healthful workplace and the duty to accommodate persons with disabilities.  Mayo v. PCC Structurals may help employers make appropriate decisions when handling similar issues.

If you, or someone you know, has questions about workplace accommodations, or threats of violence in the workplace, contact an experienced employment attorney.

Original article by Robert E. Nuddleman of Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C.

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