Jason Jordan was hired as a police officer by the City of Union City, Georgia in 2012. Early in Jordan’s training rotation, his supervisors became concerned about his lack of engagement in tactical situations. During a debriefing after one such situation, Jordan explained that his feelings were consistent with anxiety disorder “episodes” or “attacks” that he had had in the past.
The City immediately relieved Jordan of duty. The next day, a captain told him that he would be fired if he did not resign. The Captain’s words were: “I think you have anxiety issues because I’ve done a little investigating of my own and it’s not the first time that that’s happened. You had a situation that happened at the Academy that supposedly a thunderstorm came through and they had to call an ambulance for you. You’ve got some anxiety issues that you need to deal with…It’s not going to be here.”
Jordan chose to resign under threat of firing. He then filed a lawsuit under the Americans With Disabilities Act, contending that he had been discriminated against on the basis of disability. Jordan claimed that he was fired because the captain regarded him as disabled, not that he was in fact disabled.
The federal Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed Jordan’s lawsuit. The Court held that the ADA did not protect all employees with disabilities, only “qualified individuals with a disability.” That term, the Court observed, means “someone with a disability, who with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job. Essential functions, in turn, are fundamental job duties of a position that an individual with a disability is actually required to perform.
“The essential functions of the police officer position are not in dispute. These functions, which are derived from Union City’s written description of the position and from the captain’s testimony, include the ability to exercise sound, independent judgment in an emergency or stressful situation and to react quickly and calmly in emergencies. The job description further states that officers may be exposed to dangerous and life-threatening situations and that they must be mentally and physically capable of using deadly force if justified.
“Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Jordan and resolving all factual disputes in his favor, we conclude that the District Court properly granted summary judgment to Union City. Jordan’s deposition testimony regarding his condition establishes that Jordan’s condition affected his ability to process and manage stress. In addition, Jordan testified that his condition could and did impact his breathing, blood pressure, heart rate, and adrenal fatigue.
“Jordan explained that his anxiety episodes were also unpredictable. He testified that about once a month, he would experience a couple of episodes together and then none for a while. The episodes were not necessarily triggered by events, but events could stimulate his anxiety. As Jordan related, his anxiety episodes were unpreventable and largely uncontrollable.
“Being prepared to respond to unexpected events is, in part, precisely what defines a police officer or detective, and Jordan’s testimony reflects the possibility that he was likely to have unpredictable and unpreventable anxiety episodes while on duty that would affect his ability to process and manage stress and impact his breathing, blood pressure, heart rate, and adrenal fatigue. Even an infrequent inability to perform the essential functions of the position is enough to render a plaintiff not a qualified individual under the ADA.”
Jordan v. City of Union City, Georgia, 2016 WL 1127739 (11th Cir. 2016).
The above article has appeared in a previous issue of Public Safety Labor News and has been reprinted courtesy of Labor Relations Information System. These articles are for informational purposes only.