The Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles was sued by a former employee with a mental health condition. This employee had worked for the DMV for 15 years as a drive test examiner. It was known to the DMV that she had an anxiety disorder that required her to take breaks in the restroom when she anticipated that a panic attack was coming. In those instances, she was successfully able to calm herself down and return to work.
One day, this employee said that she needed a break. The supervisor next heard screaming. She found the employee on the floor of the public lobby with cut marks on her right wrist; kicking and rolling around on the floor while stating that she wanted to die. An ambulance was called, and she was taken to the hospital. Following the incident, she was placed on Family and Medical Leave. The DMV required that the employee be examined by an independent medical examiner to see if she was fit to come back to work. In the end, the DMV decided that the incident, coupled with the results of the exam, necessitated that she be fired. She filed suit.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the DMV's right to terminate her. In reaching its decision, the court of appeals praised the DMV for seeking a professional assessment of the situation and taking the time to reach a thoughtful decision. An employer was not required to ignore intolerable behavior, even if that behavior arose out of a disability. "[W]hen an employee engages in behavior that is unacceptable in the workplace…the fact that the behavior is precipitated by her mental illness does not present an issue under the ADA; the behavior itself disqualifies her from continued employment and justifies her discharge."