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High Court to Hear Wal-Mart Disability Case

The Supreme Court on Dec. 7 agreed to review Huber v. Wal-Mart, a case that explores whether a disabled employee who cannot perform her current job must be given a vacant position without competing with other job candidates.

Plaintiff Pam Huber injured her arm and hand while working as an order filler in a Clarksville, Ark., Wal-Mart warehouse. She requested a transfer from the warehouse floor job to a vacant desk job. Wal-Mart gave the job to an employee with more seniority than Huber, stating it gave vacant positions to the best qualified applicant and that Huber's disability had nothing to do with the decision.

To accommodate Huber, Wal-Mart offered her a lesser-paying job, which Huber accepted. She sued, and a federal district court found for Huber.

The 8th Circuit then reversed that ruling in May 2007, finding that "an employer is not required to provide a disabled employee with an accommodation that is ideal from the employee's perspective, only an accommodation that is reasonable ... Huber was treated exactly as all other candidates were treated for the Wal-Mart job opening, no worse and no better."

According to the plaintiff's lawyers, the 8th Circuit's ruling goes against the EEOC, which has interpreted that a disabled worker does not need to be the most qualified person for the job to be reassigned to an open position. The ADA says employers must make reasonable accommodations to disabled employees.

The High Court will hear arguments in the case in spring 2008, with a ruling expected by July. In Justice Stephen Breyer's most recent financial disclosure he reported holding stock in Wal-Mart and has recused himself from the case.

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