Violent Misconduct by Employee Supports Termination under ADA or FEHA – Even if Caused by a Disability

Housing Act (FEHA) protect employees against discrimination because of their disabilities.  Mental disabilities are covered under both laws.

But there are two key factors that are always in play in these cases. First, the employee in question must be “otherwise qualified.” That is to say, the employer must be able to perform his or her job, assuming the employer can reasonably accommodate the disability.

In addition, if a disabled employee engages in violent or other serious misconduct – even if that conduct is caused by the disability – the employer may nevertheless terminate the employee. A recent case highlights the interplay of these rules.

In Wills v. Superior Court, a superior court clerk made violent threats to co-worker in the workplace.  This conduct was apparently caused by Ms. Wills’s bipolar disorder.  When the court fired her, she sued and claimed that because the conduct at issue was the product of her disability, to fire for that amounted to disability discrimination.

The court of appeal rejected her claim, noting that “we interpret the FEHA as authorizing an employer to distinguish between disability-caused misconduct and the disability itself in the narrow context of threats or violence against coworkers. . . . We believe our interpretation of FEHA strikes the appropriate balance between protecting employees suffering from a disability and allowing employers to protect their employees and others from threats of violenc3e and the fear that a hostile or potentially violent employee will act on this threats.”

A copy of the Wills ruling is attached for your convenience.

We regularly advise employers and individual employees about issues such as this that arise in the workplace. Feel free to give us a call if you have questions or issues in this area.

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