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Labor: ADA mandates reassignment of disabled workers to vacant positions

7th Circuit overrules precedent in EEOC v. United Airlines Inc.

According to a new decision issued by the 7th Circuit, EEOC v. United Airlines, Inc., employers are now required to reassign to vacant positions workers with disabilities who can no longer perform the essential functions of their jobs. In reaching this decision, the 7th Circuit overruled precedent allowing employers to implement transfer policies requiring disabled employees to compete with other candidates for reassignment positions. The shift in the court’s interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has great significance for employers working with employees with disabilities.

At issue in the decision was United’s “Reasonable Accommodation Guidelines,” which addressed the process for transferring employees with disabilities to vacant positions when they could no longer perform the essential functions of their current jobs. The guidelines specified that the process was “competitive.” In other words, employees with disabilities would receive preferential treatment when seeking reassignment, but were not guaranteed the transfer if a better-qualified candidate also sought the position. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) argued that this policy violated the ADA, however the district court disagreed, citing a 2000 case, EEOC v. Humiston-Keeling.

Contributing Author

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John Kuenstler

John F. Kuenstler is a partner in the Chicago office of Barnes & Thornburg LLP and a member of the Labor and Employment Department. Mr....

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