Employment Law Daily Whether bus mechanic with ADHD can safely perform job will be decided at trial
Friday, September 9, 2016

Whether bus mechanic with ADHD can safely perform job will be decided at trial

By Dave Strausfeld, J.D. A metropolitan transit authority bus mechanic, proceeding pro se, survived summary judgment on his claim he was discriminated against based on his ADHD when he was fired from his job after some on-the-job accidents, held a federal district court in the District of Columbia. The evidence suggested his accidents occurred during the time the transit authority barred him from taking Adderall in the belief that his commercial driver’s license (CDL) would not allow it. Because a reasonable factfinder could determine that he could perform his job safely while taking Adderall, his Rehab Act discrimination claim could proceed to trial. But his defamation claims against several individual coworkers did not survive (McFadden v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, September 2, 2016, Walton, R.). Had accidents at work. In the spring of 2009, the mechanic twice failed to detach the fuel nozzle before moving the bus he was servicing. After the second occurrence, he sought medical advice and was diagnosed with ADHD, for which he was prescribed Adderall to increase his focus and concentration. But a transit authority medical review officer then told him he could not take Adderall, an amphetamine, because of his job position based on federal law, so he was switched to Strattera, a non-stimulant medication designed to treat ADHD. Subsequently, he was involved in two additional on-the-job accidents. Later, after some back and forth over whether he could use Adderall and still maintain the CDL he needed for his job, he was again instructed to cease using Adderall, and a few days later sustained an on-the-job injury. On his disability discrimination claim, the primary dispute was whether he could perform the essential functions of his position with the accommodation of being permitted to use Adderall. Eligibility for commercial driver’s license. The transit authority contended, first, that the bus mechanic was unable to perform his position while on Adderall because he was no longer eligible for a CDL. Under federal law, he needed a certification from his physician that his use of the amphetamine, a controlled substance, would not adversely affect his ability to operate a commercial motor vehicle. But the evidence was unclear, the court found, as to whether the transit authority had ever requested such a certification from him, and if it had, whether or not his physician had provided it. Thus a genuine factual dispute existed regarding his continued eligibility for a CDL. Safety risk. The transit authority next argued that the mechanic "had significant safety-related issues" even while taking Adderall. But there was a genuine dispute about this, the court found, because it appeared he was not involved in any safety-related incidents while actively using Adderall. In fact, the record suggested the opposite—that with the use of Adderall, he performed his duties devoid of any safety-related incidents, but when he was forced to stop using Adderall, he was accident prone due to his symptoms caused by his ADHD. And the transit authority had not produced "any research or medical expert evidence which indicates that the use of Adderall by employees in safety-sensitive positions compromises safety." In sum, a reasonable factfinder could determine that the bus mechanic could perform the essential functions of his position with the use of Adderall as a reasonable accommodation. Accordingly, the court denied both sides’ summary judgment motions on his Rehab Act discrimination claim. He also survived summary judgment on his Rehab Act retaliation claim. Defamation. The bus mechanic additionally brought common law defamation claims against three coworkers who, at his grievance hearing, allegedly made defamatory statements such as that he was addicted to Adderall. The coworkers asserted they had immunity from suit—and the court agreed. The interstate compact creating the metropolitan transit authority contained provisions regarding immunity, and in Beebe v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth. the DC Circuit held that the transit authority’s employees are immune from state law tort actions when the conduct at issue falls "within the scope of their official duties and the conduct is discretionary in nature." Here, the test for immunity was met because the three coworkers were acting within the scope of their official duties when they made the allegedly defamatory statements at the grievance hearing and their conduct was discretionary in nature, so the court dismissed the mechanic’s defamation claims on immunity grounds.

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