Appeals court hears claims against employer over former employee's psychiatric disorders

By Eliza Walker | Nov 19, 2013

NEW ORLEANS – The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a district court ruling against a West Texas man who filed an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit against his former employers after they fired him for a series of verbal altercations he claims were due to his suffering from several psychiatric disorders.

Jeffrey Neely originally filed suit against PSEG Texas, Limited Partnership and Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. in the Western District of Texas.

The defendant, a control-room operator for PSEG Texas, was suspended and ultimately fired after a series of verbal altercations with his supervisors. After being terminated, the defendant was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and severe generalized anxiety disorder without psychosis.

The plaintiff filed an Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VII claim, as well as a Family and Medical Leave Act claim. The district court dismissed the FMLA claim, and the plaintiff voluntarily dropped his Title VII retaliation claim before trial. The case went to a jury on the remaining claims of discrimination, retaliation and failure to provide reasonable accommodations under the ADA.

During trial, the plaintiff objected to two jury interrogatories, both of which were predicate questions to the termination and the failure to accommodate claims, and asked whether the plaintiff was “a qualified individual with a disability.” The jury answered “No” to both predicate questions.

The plaintiff appealed the judgment based on an adverse jury verdict.

The appeal was based on the argument that the district court erred in submitting the first question—“Was a plaintiff a qualified individual with a disability?” as a predicate to a finding of discrimination.

The appeals court found the district court did not abuse its discretion in either jury interrogatory, and stated that no valid argument has been presented that the interrogatories did not adequately present the contested issues to the jury, thus affirming the original decision.

The case was heard by Circuit Judges Jerry Edwin Smith, Edward C. Prado and Jennifer Walker Elrod. The decision was written by Smith.

Case no. 12-51074.

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