Reassignment Deemed Mandatory Under the ADA by Seventh Circuit
In EEOC v. United Airlines, the Seventh Circuit overruled a decision from 2000 and held the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) mandates employers appoint disabled employees to vacant positions for which they are qualified, even though they are not the most qualified person for the job. This decision officially puts the Seventh Circuit in compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court case U.S. Airways, Inc. v. Barnett, which decided this issue in 2002.
In Barnett, the Supreme Court held that employers must reassign a disabled, qualified employee to a vacant position absent undue hardship. Under this ruling, an employer who selects the best-qualified candidate over a disabled candidate, absent undue hardship, violates the ADA. The Court set forth a two-step approach for these cases. First, the employee must show the accommodation is reasonable under the specific facts in existence. Second, if the employee succeeds, the burden shifts to the employer to show the reassignment would impose undue hardship under the case-specific reasons. If the employee does not succeed in the first step, the employee can still prevail by showing that special circumstances warrant a finding that the reassignment is reasonable in the case.
The Seventh Circuit joins the Tenth and D.C. Circuits in its rulings. Employers should know that under this case and the Supreme Court decision in Barnett, reassignment policies that dictate anything less than automatic transfer absent an undue hardship will violate the ADA. According to Barnett, if reassignment would violate the seniority system, that by itself will ordinarily be sufficient to demonstrate that the accommodation is unreasonable, but the court did not make a per se rule; there may be exceptions to this. Employers should consult counsel to evaluate their policies and procedures to make sure they are in line with this ruling.
Brody and Associates regularly provides counsel on the ADA, as well as other civil rights issues and employment laws in general. If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 203.965.0560.