The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Illinois employers, has ruled against United Airlines in a disability accommodation case that could ultimately end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case revolved around whether employers can fill vacant positions through a competitive process or if they must assign disabled workers to those positions as a reasonable accommodation.
In siding with the disabled plaintiffs, the court ruled “the ADA does indeed mandate that an employer appoint employees with disabilities to vacant positions for which they are qualified, provided that such accommodations would be ordinarily reasonable and would not present an undue hardship to the employer.”
United Airlines argued that requiring employers to place disabled persons in vacant positions creates a preference for disabled workers, and that the ADA only requires employers to provide them a level playing field. The court disagreed, stating that employers could only defeat that preference by proving an undue hardship.
The 7th Circuit joins the 10th Circuit in adopting this approach, which also largely coincides with the EEOC’s enforcement position. The 8th Circuit, however, has issued rulings in line with United’s position in this case. That makes it likely that the Supreme Court will have to resolve the split sometime in the future.
Advice: In the meantime, Illinois employers should assume they must accommodate disabled workers by assigning them to vacant positions unless they can demonstrate that doing so would cause undue hardship.