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The Michigan Court of Appeals turned down the appeal of a police officer who claimed that the city discriminated against him because of a mental disability when it refused to reinstate him to his job.
Pietro Degiuli had been working as a public safety officer for the city of Taylor, Mich., for almost 10 years in 2005, when he was named as a defendant in a wrongful death action on behalf of a man who died in police custody. In that lawsuit, Deguili said that the man’s death could have been avoided by proper police training. He also made the same statement to the HR director for the Taylor police department and the city’s mayor. He filed for workers comp benefits, based on a shoulder injury that had also occurred in 2005, and on the depression he experienced as a result of the death and the lawsuit. During a 2008 hearing on that claim, Degiuli said that he was depressed, and suicidal, and that he had visions of eviscerating the Taylor chief of police and other coworkers. His comp claim was turned down.
Degiuli subsequently underwent several years of psychiatric care for depression, during which he expressed a need to attack evil in the world and a desire to eviscerate others, to eat their flesh, or to bite off their heads. He also continued to communicate with Taylor’s mayor, and others, claiming that the police department had treated him unfairly in connection with the death, and accusing them of public corruption, perjury and civil rights violations.
When he asked for his police job back in 2012, the city required him to go through a three-step evaluation covering his physical and mental fitness for his job.
He sued the city for disability discrimination under state law.
But he also went ahead with the job evaluation, and in that process, Degiuli told a psychologist that his statements about hurting people were just talk, and that he had no intention or thoughts of hurting himself or anyone else. The psychologist told the chief of police that Degiuli was an angry man who was holding some anger at the Taylor police department, but said that he still believed Degiuli was fit to return to work. Degiuli also passed the other components of the job evaluation, but the city nevertheless refused to take him back.
His case proceeded to court. A lower court dismissed the claims, ruling that the city’s refusal to hire him was not an act of discrimination and that the city was not required to reinstate a potentially violent employee.
The Michigan Court of Appeals said that the state’s disability discrimination law required Degiuli to show that that he was regarded as having a mental characteristic which in turn was regarded as substantially limiting his major life activities, and as being unrelated to his ability to do his job or to hold any job at all.
Reviewing the evidence, the court said that he couldn’t show that his mental characteristic was regarded as being unrelated to his job. Instead, the court pointed to testimony from the chief of police, who was worried about his ability to deal with the public, prisoners, and frantic 911 callers, and concerned about the safety of other police officers, prisoners and the public. Therefore, the court said, the city regarded Degiuli’s perceived mental condition as related to his ability to do his job, and Degiuli could not demonstrate the contrary.
Also, the court said, Degiuli could not successfully argue that the stated reason for refusing to reinstate him was a pretext for discrimination. In fact, the city’s reasons were the true reasons, the court said, adding that an employee’s threats of workplace harm could be a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for an adverse employment action.
The court affirmed the lower court’s decision.
Deguili v. City of Taylor, Mich. Ct. App.,No. 317681 (Dec. 23, 2014).
Diane Cadrain is an attorney who has been writing about employment law issues for more than 20 years.
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