Wednesday, March 14, 2012

7th Circuit: "The ADA does not require employers to reassign employees, who will lose their current positions due to disability, to a vacant position for which they are qualified."

The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently released an opinion in an Americans with Disabilities Act Case, EEOC vs. United Airlines, Inc., Case No. 11-1774, holding that the ADA does not require employers, as a reasonable accommodation, to reassign employees, who will lose their current positions due to disability, to a vacant position for which they are qualified.  


The 7th Circuit's opinion was very short as the issue had been addressed in EEOC v. Humiston-Keeling, 227 F.3d 1024, 1029 (7th Cir. 2000), but the EEOC attempted to argue that the Supreme Court’s ruling in US Airways, Inc. v. Barnett, 535 U.S. 391 (2002), undermines Humiston-Keeling.  However, the 7th Circuit maintained that "several courts in this circuit have relied on Humiston- Keeling in post-Barnett opinions, though it appears that these courts did not conduct a detailed analysis of Humiston-Keeling’s continued vitality."


At issue was United's "Reasonable Accommodation Guidelines that address accommodating employees who, because of disability, can no longer do the essential functions of their current jobs even with reasonable accommodation. While the guidelines note that “transfer . . . [to] an equivalent or lower-level vacant position” may be a reasonable accommodation, the guidelines specify that the transfer process is competitive. Accordingly, an employee will not be automatically placed into a vacant position. Instead, employees needing accommodation will be given preference, meaning they can submit an unlimited number of transfer applications, they are guaranteed an interview and they will receive priority consideration over a similarly qualified applicant."  The EEOC filed suit alleging this policy violated the ADA asking the Court to reconsider its stance and find reassignment required by employers to reasonably accommodate disabled employees.

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