Personality Traits Not Protected By ADA

Personality Traits Not Protected By ADA

Written on 09/20/2019
Will Aitchison

Kent Donley was a police officer with the Village of Yorkville in New York. On July 5, 2011, the Village mayor and the board of trustees were presented with a written complaint from a resident regarding an incident with Donley. The complaint alleged that Donley had approached the resident and her daughter in the resident’s fenced-in backyard at approximately 10:30 p.m., and that Donley had shined a flashlight at them without identifying himself. It further alleged that Donley had threatened to shoot their dogs if they did not bring them inside the house.

On December 7, 2011, a senior probation officer advised the Department that Donley had an order of protection issued against him by the mother of his child, Jessamyn Harter. Harter contended that Donley had sent her a series of text messages and emails causing her to fear Donley would harm himself. The mayor and the Village board discussed alternatives to termination and requested that Donley undergo a psychological evaluation, to which Donley consented. Dr. Toby Davis, a psychologist, performed this fitness-for-duty evaluation and issued his report on June 7, 2012.

The report did not diagnose Donley with any mental, emotional, or psychological disorders, but it did state that Donley exhibited various personality traits, “including narcissism, a sense of entitlement, a sense of projective power due in part to his position as a police officer, lack of self-awareness, and diminished self-monitoring ability.” When the Department terminated Donley, he sued, contending that he was the victim of disability discrimination.

A federal court rejected Donley’s lawsuit. The Court found that “under regulations promulgated by the EEOC, mental impairment is defined as ‘any mental or psychological disorder, such as an intellectual disability, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.’

“Dr. Davis found that Donley exhibited various traits, including narcissism, a sense of entitlement, a sense of projective power due in part to his position as a police officer, lack of self-awareness, and diminished self-monitoring ability, all of which placed him at risk for continued errors in judgment. He did not, however, make a finding that these personality traits were symptomatic of any mental, psychological, or emotional disorder. In fact, Dr. Davis did not diagnose Donley with any mental, psychological, or emotional disorder at all, and Donley does not in fact suffer from any type of mental illness. As such, Donley’s personality traits do not constitute a disability.

“Moreover, the Court finds that Donley’s claim of direct evidence that he was regarded as suffering from PTSD is unavailing. Donley’s only evidence in support of this claim is a single statement in his own deposition that, at some point in time, another officer informed him that ‘the board was under the assumption that I maybe suffer from PTSD from service in Iraq.’ This vague statement falls short of the proof required to defeat summary judgment.

“Moreover, the fact that Donley was ordered to undergo fitness-for-duty evaluation, specifically to a ‘psychiatric/mental health evaluation,’ does not support Donley’s contention that Defendants regarded him as disabled. Courts have consistently found that ordering an employee to undergo a fitness-for-duty evaluation for valid reasons can neither count as an adverse job action nor prove discrimination.”

Donley v. Village of Yorkville, 2019 WL 3817054 (N.D. N.Y. 2019).