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Reassignment of Disabled Employees

April 30, 2012
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Must an employer reasonably accommodate employees whose disability prevents them from doing their job by reassigning them to an equivalent or lower-level position? On March 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled "no," and held that reassignments are not compulsory.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued United Airlines under the Americans with Disabilities Act, challenging the airline's reasonable accommodation guidelines, which provided that the reassignment process is "competitive" and the disabled employee will not automatically receive the vacancy if there is a better qualified candidate. The EEOC contended that United's policy violates the ADA, which the EEOC argued requires an employer to reassign a disabled worker to a vacant job for which that person is qualified.

A federal district court granted United's motion to dismiss.

Affirming judgment for United, the 7th Circuit recommended an en banc review of the issue, but concluded that "EEOC's interpretation may in fact be a more supportable interpretation of the ADA, and here we think that this is likely."

The 7th Circuit ruled that ADA does not require that employers reassign employees who may lose their current positions because of a disability to a vacant position. EEOC v. United Airlines (7th Cir. No. 11-1774, 3/7/12).

IMPACT: Employers should watch the development of EEOC v. United Airlines because it may require that consideration be made of transfer opportunities for employees unable to perform their regular jobs.

James E. Hall, Mark T. Kobata and Marty DenisReassignment of Disabled Employees

Must an employer reasonably accommodate employees whose disability prevents them from doing their job by reassigning them to an equivalent or lower-level position? On March 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled "no," and held that reassignments are not compulsory.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued United Airlines under the Americans with Disabilities Act, challenging the airline's reasonable accommodation guidelines, which provided that the reassignment process is "competitive" and the disabled employee will not automatically receive the vacancy if there is a better qualified candidate. The EEOC contended that United's policy violates the ADA, which the EEOC argued requires an employer to reassign a disabled worker to a vacant job for which that person is qualified.

A federal district court granted United's motion to dismiss.

Affirming judgment for United, the 7th Circuit recommended an en banc review of the issue, but concluded that "EEOC's interpretation may in fact be a more supportable interpretation of the ADA, and here we think that this is likely."

The 7th Circuit ruled that ADA does not require that employers reassign employees who may lose their current positions because of a disability to a vacant position. EEOC v. United Airlines (7th Cir. No. 11-1774, 3/7/12).

IMPACT: Employers should watch the development of EEOC v. United Airlines because it may require that consideration be made of transfer opportunities for employees unable to perform their regular jobs.

James E. Hall, Mark T. Kobata and Marty Denis are partners in the law firm of Barlow, Kobata & Denis, with offices in Los Angeles and Chicago. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

Workforce Management, March 2012, p. 8 -- Subscribe Now!

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