Disability Does Not Excuse Failure to Meet Conduct Standards


Even where the disability is the reason the employee cannot meet that standard, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit explained.

In Lockhart v. Marietta City Schools, a public school teacher engaged in inappropriate conversations about a religious experience that she had with students, both during and after classroom time. She was directed to stop such communications, which were in violation of the school district’s policy forbidding teachers from sharing their religious beliefs with public-school students. She was placed on leave, but continued to engage in such communications with students and others, even as they became more irrational. She was subsequently diagnosed with a severely-limiting mental health condition. She was eventually terminated for her continuing inappropriate communications with students about her religious experience and her employment, despite repeated instructions not to do so. She then sued, alleging among other things, that the school failed to accommodate her disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The federal district court rejected her claims and she appealed that decision to the Sixth Circuit.

The Sixth Circuit, however, agreed with the district court’s ruling, asserting that, “an employer may legitimately fire an employee for conduct, even conduct that occurs as a result of a disability, if that conduct disqualifies the employee from his or her job.” The Sixth Circuit acknowledged that an employer, once it becomes aware of an employee’s disability, must provide reasonable accommodations to allow the employee to meet performance and conduct standards. In this case, however, the Sixth Circuit found that would have been no accommodations available that would have allowed her to meet the conduct standard. Moreover, the employee did not request an accommodation – of additional leave – until the disciplinary hearing process that resulted in her termination had already started. As the Sixth Circuit noted, employers are not required to excuse past misconduct, and may take appropriate disciplinary action, including termination, based on such misconduct.