City Failed to Reasonably Accommodate Police Officer with Dyslexia and ADHD

By Joanne Deschenaux July 10, 2020
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A California appeals court upheld a lower court's award of almost $3 million to a city police officer who had dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A jury had found that the city terminated the officer without engaging in the interactive process or considering a reasonable accommodation for his disabilities, and the appeals court found substantial evidence to support this conclusion. 

The uncontradicted evidence at trial showed that the officer had dyslexia and ADHD and had difficulty reading and writing. All of the officer's supervisors knew of his conditions.

The evidence also showed that, in 18 years on the job, the officer had never received a negative job evaluation and had numerous commendations.

The officer was terminated after stopping but failing to detain a driver who had earlier been involved in a hit-and-run collision. The city claimed that the officer lied when he reported what happened during the stop.

Prior to his termination, the officer had requested that the city engage in the interactive process regarding his dyslexia and ADHD and discuss reasonable accommodations, but the city refused.

The officer sued the city for disability bias and failure to accommodate and engage in the interactive process in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).

The trial jury found:

  • The officer had a disability that limited his ability to do his job as a police officer.
  • The city knew of the officer's disability.
  • The officer requested that the city make reasonable accommodation for his disability so that he would be able to perform the essential job duties of a police officer.
  • The officer was willing to participate in an interactive process to determine whether reasonable accommodation could be made.
  • The city's failure to participate in a good-faith interactive process was a substantial factor in causing harm to the officer.
  • The officer was able to perform the essential job duties of a police officer with or without reasonable accommodation for his disability.
  • The city failed to provide reasonable accommodation for the officer's disability.
  • The city's failure to provide such reasonable accommodation was a substantial factor in causing the officer harm.
  • The officer received almost $3 million in damages, and the city appealed.

The appellate court upheld the award of damages. It rejected the city's claim that it could not be found liable on the failure-to-accommodate and interactive-process claims because the officer denied needing accommodations and refused to participate in the interactive process.

The court noted that the record contained substantial evidence that the officer requested an accommodation and that he was willing to engage in the interactive process. Although there was some evidence to the contrary, the court said, "where there is an evidentiary basis for the jury's verdict, the jury is free to discard facts inconsistent with its conclusion. "

Green v. City of South Pasadena, Calif. Ct. App., No. B287814 (June 1, 2020).

[Looking for state-specific information? See State & Local Updates]

Professional Pointer: Failing to consider accommodations for employees with conditions such as ADHD or dyslexia can create liability risks under both state disability-bias laws and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Joanne Deschenaux, J.D., is a freelance writer in Annapolis, Md. 

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