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Police Officer Who Couldn’t Be Tazed “Regarded As” Disabled

Detective Jacqueline Lewis worked for the Union City Police Department. When the department wanted her to undergo Taser training, Ms. Lewis brought a doctor’s note recommending against her participation. Because of her prior mild heart attack, her doctor did not think that she should receive the five-minute shock given by the Taser. In response to the note, the police department put her on indefinite unpaid leave; requiring that she be fully released before she could come back.

Over the next 21 days, Ms. Lewis tried to work with the police department to get an accommodation. She also tried to get more information from her doctor to the department so that it understood that she was able to work. The department fired her on the 21st day, claiming that she had used up all of her accrued leave and had not turned in any FMLA paperwork. Ms. Lewis, an African-American woman, sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII (for gender and race claims).

The case went before the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.  Ms. Lewis’ mild heart attack did not qualify as a disability under the ADA since it did not substantially limit a major life activity. However, the circuit court found that the police department “regarded” her as disabled, which did earn her ADA protection. Going on to the next prong, the court did not find that she was unqualified as a matter of law because of her inability to withstand a Taser shock. Nowhere in the job description for the position did it mention that a detective must be able to withstand a Taser shock. Thus, it was a question for the jury whether it was an essential function of the position. In addition to being able to proceed on her ADA claim, Ms. Lewis would also be entitled to present her race and gender claims to a jury based on two white colleagues who failed physical training but kept their jobs.