Officer With Bipolar Disorder Loses ADA Claim

Written on 01/05/2023
LRIS

Tyler Sapp was a police officer for the Forest Preserves of Cook County in Illinois. Among other duties, Forest Preserves police officers are expected to respond to emergency calls for service and provide direction and assistance during emergencies such as serious illness or injury, severe weather, fires, and bomb threats. The Preserves’ job description requires officers to possess the following attributes: “Ability to think clearly and decisively in stressful and challenging situations. Ability to analyze situations and adopt quick, effective, and reasonable courses of action.”

On April 22, 2018, Sapp’s spouse called 911 because he was agitated and was “hallucinating and delusional.” Sapp’s spouse also reported that “he punched a hole in the wall and there were over 30 firearms in the residence.” Sapp agreed to be transported by am­bulance to the Community Hospital in Munster, Indiana, where he stayed three days. He eventually was diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder, with hospital staff noting that Sapp did “experience suicidal ideation and urges along with rapidly shifting mood swings.”

The Preserves had Sapp undergo an Independent Medical Examination with Dr. Diana Goldstein, a clinical psychologist and clinical neuropsychol­ogist. Goldstein determined that Sapp “was not fit to perform the duties of a Forest Preserves Police Officer” because his information processing speed and reaction time were “significantly im­paired.” As explained by Goldstein, “processing speed is a cognitive ability that assesses the time it takes one to receive information, consider it, inter­pret and integrate it and implement a response.” Goldstein also found that Sapp’s scores in processing-speed tests fell within the “mild to moderate impaired ranges” across various tasks. Considering the impaired response times, Goldstein determined that Sapp’s reaction time posed a “clear safety risk” to himself, other officers, and the public.

When the Preserves terminated Sapp, he responded with a lawsuit contending his termination violated the Americans With Disabilities Act. A federal court judge recently dismissed the lawsuit.

The Court began by noting that “under the ADA, an employer can­not discriminate against a ‘qualified individual on the basis of disability.’ The ADA goes on to define ‘qualified individual’ as a person who ‘with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position.’

“Not surprisingly, the Forest Pre­serves focuses on the emergency-related duties of police officers in arguing that Sapp’s impaired response times rendered him unable to perform the es­sential functions of the job. Specifically, the ability to ‘respond to emergency calls for service and provide direction and assistance during emergencies’ are (among other things) essential functions of a police officer. Officers are also required ‘to think clearly and decisively in stressful and challenging situations. Ability to analyze situations and adopt quick, effective, and reason­able courses of action.’

“With that context in place, as explained by Goldstein, ‘processing speed is a cognitive ability that as­sesses the time it takes one to receive information, consider it, interpret and integrate it and implement a response.’ Goldstein found that Sapp’s scores in processing-speed tests fell within the ‘mild to moderate impaired ranges’ across various tasks.

“To determine Sapp’s ‘level of effort, motivation, and potential re­sponse bias on neurocognitive testing,’ Goldstein administered a variety of assessments. Sapp had a ‘failed per­formance’ for Immediate Recall items, but ‘improved his score significantly by the Delayed Recall trial’ resulting in passing performance on Consistency of Recall. Sapp’s impaired information processing speed and reaction time, however, led Goldstein to conclude Sapp would be a ‘clear safety risk’ as an officer. Considering the emergen­cy situations officers must face, no reasonable jury could find that Sapp could perform the essential functions of an in-the-field police officer given his impaired reaction time.”

Sapp v. Cook County, 2022 WL 4367172 (N.D. Ill. 2022).

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