August 07, 2015 Practice Points

Violent Conduct Excluded Employee from Being "Qualified Individual" under ADA

The Ninth Circuit held that an employer must, in some instances, do what is necessary to protect its workforce against potentially violent employees.

By Aleem A. Dhalla

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued its ruling last week in Mayo v. PCC Structurals, Inc. (PCC) in favor of the employer, affirming the lower court’s grant of summary judgment, holding that an employee’s death threats and violent conduct excluded him as a “qualified individual” under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), and thus prevented the employee from establishing a discrimination claim under the ADA.

The case involved PCC, a metal-casting company, and Timothy Mayo, a former employee of PCC who welded aircraft parts. Mayo began working for PCC in 1987 and was diagnosed with major depressive disorder in 1999. He had been able to control his depression with medication and treatment. However, in 2010, Mayo and other coworkers began having trouble with a supervisor who they claimed bullied them. Mayo and other coworkers subsequently filed complaints, which led to an interview between Mayo and PCC’s director of human resources.

After the meeting, Mayo began making threatening comments to his coworkers. These comments included statements on how Mayo would shoot his supervisor with a shotgun. The remarks were graphic in detail, including the specific time and method of carrying out his plan. Mayo was suspended and reported to the police. On the evening of his suspension, a police officer visited Mayo’s home to speak with Mayo regarding the threats. Mayo repeated the threats. When asked if he planned to go to PCC and start shooting people, Mayo responded, “Not tonight.”

Mayo was then voluntarily taken into custody because the officer considered Mayo to be a danger to himself and others. Mayo was released after six days, and subsequently took two months leave under the Oregon Family Leave Act and the Family Medical Leave Act. During that time, Mayo underwent treatment and was deemed a non-violent person. Ultimately, however, PCC terminated Mayo at the end of his leave.

Mayo later filed a complaint alleging an ADA violation. The U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon granted summary judgment for PCC, holding that Mayo was not a “qualified individual” due to his violent threats and therefore was not entitled to protection under the ADA.

The Ninth Circuit, agreeing with the First and Seventh Circuits, affirmed summary judgment. To make out a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA, the plaintiff must show that: “(1) he is a disabled person within the meaning of the statute; (2) he is a qualified individual with a disability; and (3) he suffered an adverse employment action because of his disability.” The court held that the ability to handle stress and interact with coworkers is an essential function of almost every job. The court found that Mayo was not a “qualified individual” because of his deadly threats, with chilling detail, in disproportionate response to his supervisor’s actions. The court noted that any other decision would undoubtedly put the employer in the difficult position of appropriately responding to threats or potentially putting its workforce at risk.

In its conclusion, the court was mindful that depression and mental illness are serious conditions that affect millions of Americans. However, their opinion recognizes that an employer must, in some instances, do what is necessary to protect its workforce against potentially violent employees.

Aleem A. Dhalla, Summer Associate, Snell & Wilmer, Las Vegas, NV


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