The U.S. Supreme Court on May 28 let stand a lower court’s ruling that employers may be required to reassign a disabled employee to a vacant position as an ADA reasonable accommodation if the employee can’t perform his or her current job.
The closely watched case—United Airlines v. EEOC—ended when the High Court denied the airline’s petition to have it review a 2012 decision by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case means the EEOC can now go back to court to try to prove that disabled but qualified United employees should be reassigned to vacant positions.
The EEOC’s original lawsuit charged that United violated the ADA by requiring workers with disabilities to compete for vacant positions instead of being reassigned. The commission alleged that the practice frequently forced disabled employees out of United’s workforce.
The 7th Circuit found that “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.”
This is a big win for the EEOC and disability-rights activists. “The 7th Circuit’s affirmation of our interpretation of the ADA is a tremendous victory for [disabled] individuals,” said EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez.
This case could affect employers nationwide. Technically, it only applies in the 7th Circuit (Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin), but the EEOC is likely to view reassignment as a new ADA standard.
Advice: Consult your attorney before you terminate a disabled employee because she can no longer perform a job despite your accommodation efforts. If you have an open position for which she is qualified, you may have to reassign her.
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