'I hate working with women': ADA doesn't excuse worker's outburst, court says
- Federal law did not require an employer to excuse an employee's assertion that he hated working with women, even if the outburst was caused by a disability, the the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia Columbus Division held, granting summary judgment to the employer in Kassa v. Synovus Bank, (No. 18-cv-2 (M.D. Ga. Jan. 3, 2018)).
- Prior to his employment as a technician for Synovus Bank, Tony Kassa served in the U.S. Army for more than a decade and had received treatment for depression, anxiety, intermittent explosive disorder, bipolar disorder, alcohol addiction, paranoid personality disorder and impulse control disorder. Kassa told his supervisors throughout his time at the bank that he had these disabilities and would need to take short breaks and work in positions that didn't require him to work with customers or speak on the phone, the court said. While Synovus initially complied with his request, a new supervisor eventually required that he perform all required job functions, including taking phone calls. After interacting with a female colleague one day, Kassa allegedly told a second woman on the phone, "nothing personal, I hate working with women"; "nothing personal, you might be totally different, I don't know." She complained, Synovus fired Kassa and he sued.
- Even assuming that Kassa was covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act and that his misconduct stemmed from a disability, the court said it was "not convinced that the ADA requires an employer to maintain indefinitely an employee who is rude and unprofessional to his coworkers and who tells a female coworker that he hates working with women."
The ADA may require an employer to accommodate an employee's disability, but courts have generally held that employers need not accommodate an employee's ongoing bad behavior, even if brought on by a legitimate disability. The court said it was persuaded by the position of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which "has suggested in unpublished opinions that misconduct related to a disability is not itself a disability."
It's also important for employers to note that employees invoking the protections of the ADA must be able to perform the essential functions of their jobs. For Kassa, that meant he needed to be able to answer phones, because his position required that, however infrequently: "Answering customer service telephone calls was an essential function of Kassa’s job," the court said, "so the Court finds that Synovus's refusal to grant Kassa’s request to eliminate this part of his job was not an adverse employment action."
While courts must sometimes decide whether a function is essential, they'll often defer to an employer's judgment, especially if, for example, essential functions are carefully tailored for each job and separated from marginal functions in a job description. In Lipp v. Cargill Meat Solutions Corp. (No. 17-2152 (8th Cir., Dec. 19, 2018)), for example, the 8th Circuit agreed with an employer that the plaintiff was not protected by the ADA because she could not "regularly and reliably attend work, an essential function of her employment."
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