Disability Discrimination Claim FAIL

An employee with a depressive disorder was legally fired for making threats of violence against his supervisors.

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Timothy Mayo was a welder at PCC Structurals, Inc. in Oregon (Mayo v. PCC Structurals, Inc. 3:12-CV-00145-KI) from 1987 until 2011. Mayo began treatment for Major Depressive Disorder in 1999, and with the help of medication and treatment, he was able to work without incident.

Until 2010, that is.

That’s when Mayo and other employees started complaining to company management about a supervisor who they claimed bullied them and made work life miserable. The company set a meeting with Mayo and his co-workers to discuss the supervisor’s behavior.

Shortly after the meeting, Mayo made threatening comments to at least three of his co-workers, saying that he “felt like coming down to PCC with a shotgun and blowing off the heads” of the supervisor and another manager, even stating that he’d come in while the supervisors do their walk-throughs. Mayo’s co-workers reported the threats to his supervisor.

PCC suspended Mayo and contacted the police. A sheriff went to visit Mayo at his home and Mayo admitted to the threats that he made, said he owned several guns and had suicidal thoughts. Mayo was taken to the hospital and placed on a Police Officer Mental Hold, where he remained for six days.

PCC granted Mayo a two-month leave under the Oregon Family Leave Act (OFLA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Mayo was cleared to return to work by his psychologist and nurse practitioner who believed Mayo’s threats were a symptom of his Major Depressive Disorder. They recommended that he be released back to his same position but under a different supervisor. Since it was not possible for Mayo to continue in his position without being supervised by one of the men he threatened, he was terminated.

When Lack of Disclosure Can Work Against You

Mayo claims that PCC violated Oregon’s disability discrimination statute when they refused to return him to his former position, failed to engage in the interactive process in order to provide him with a reasonable accommodation, and alleged that he was fired due to his disability. PCC maintains that Mayo never disclosed any disability. The judge ruled that Mayo wasn’t entitled to protection under Oregon’s statutes because he was unable to prove he could perform the ‘essential functions’ of his job with or without a reasonable accommodation:

“An essential function of almost every job is the ability to appropriately handle stress and interact with others. An employee is not qualified when that stress leads him to threaten to kill his co-workers in detail on more than one occasion.”

The judge also noted that “employers are not required to retain an employee whose unacceptable behavior threatens the safety of others, even if the behavior stems from a mental disability,” declining the notion that a reasonable accommodation in the form of a different supervisor would have worked. A different supervisor “would not have changed his inappropriate response to stress—it would have just removed one potential stressor and possibly added another name to the hit list.”

The judge therefore ruled that Mayo’s termination was justified.

When Does an Employee Need to Disclose a Disability?

There is no right time to disclose a disability. Every situation is different. Employees only need to disclose a disability if they need reasonable, work-related accommodation. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) suggests that employees make the decision to discuss their disability when it works for them – whether that is during the interview process, after a job has been offered, or not at all. Disclosure of a disability is protected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

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