California Employment Law Update

Employee With Bipolar Disorder Who Threatened Co-Workers Was Not Discriminated Against On The Basis Of Her Disability

Wills v. Superior Court, 194 Cal. App. 4th 312 (2011)

Linda Wills, who worked as a clerk for the Orange County Superior Court, was terminated from her employment after she told co-workers she was going to add them to her “Kill Bill” list and forwarded a cell phone ringtone to several people, including a co-worker, that said in a “shrieking directive”: “I’m going to blow this b_ _ _ _ up if you don’t check your messages right now!... F_ _ _ you!” She also sent “disturbing and threatening” emails to co-workers. After Wills’s “manic episode” ended, her doctor submitted a letter to the employer explaining that Wills suffered from bipolar disorder and that at no time did she pose a danger to anyone. After Wills’s employment was terminated for threatening and having inappropriate communications with co-workers, she sued for disability discrimination. The trial court granted summary judgment to the employer, and the Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that Wills had failed to exhaust administrative remedies under the Fair Employment and Housing Act when she filed a claim with the DFEH for “denial of family/medical leave” and made no mention of disability discrimination, harassment or retaliation. The Court of Appeal also concluded that even if Wills had exhausted administrative remedies as to her disability discrimination claim, it was properly dismissed because under FEHA, an employer may “distinguish between disability-caused misconduct and the disability itself in the narrow context of threats or violence against co-workers.” In so holding, the Court distinguished several opinions of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit construing the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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