A terminated sheriff’s failure to refute a psychologist’s claim that he had lingering psychological deficits from a stroke that would interfere with his ability to perform his job led the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to affirm summary judgment for the County on the sheriff’s ADA claims. 

The sheriff’s doctor had cleared him to return to work following recovery from a stroke. After he had returned, co-workers reported concerns about his behavior, such as that he became flustered at a traffic stop because he could not remember a word, that he would lose his temper and that he left work at least once because of blood pressure problems.

The County ordered the sheriff to have an fitness for duty exam from a neurologist; the neurologist cleared him to return to work “from a neurological standpoint” but suggested that his cognitive functioning be investigated.  A psychologist evaluated his cognitive functioning and concluded that the plaintiff’s symptoms of “mild to moderate fatigue, episodes of lightheadedness and episodes of emotional disinhibition (weeping)” could interfere with the performance of some of his patrol officer duties and recommended that he be placed in a low-stress position, one in which he did not have regular contact with the public.

Relying on the psychologist’s report, the County terminated the sheriff’s employment, stating that it did not have any available position for which he had been medically cleared to perform.  The Court held that the plaintiff was unable to establish that he could perform the essential functions of his job either with or without an accommodation because he failed to present any evidence contradicting the psychologist’s assessment that he should not be placed in a position here he could be exposed extreme stress, a restriction which disqualified him from patrol duty. Koessel v. Sublette County Sheriff’s Department et al (10th Cir. May 14, 2013).