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Supreme Court won’t hear United-ADA accommodations case

High court’s decision not to hear the case leaves in place lower court’s ruling

When it came to the decision over how United Airlines handles accommodating its employees who become unable to do their current jobs, it seems the 7th Circuit got it right. At least, that’s what the record will show, because this week the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

The case centered on United’s policy that said if an employee becomes unable to do his job due to a disability, he could apply to transfer to another vacant position within the company. The policy guaranteed that employee an interview for the vacant position, but it didn’t guarantee him the job. The policy stated that the selection process would be competitive.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued the airline in a California court for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), claiming the policy failed to provide “reasonable accommodations” to disabled employees. The court transferred the case to Illinois, where it bounced around the courts for several years. The case eventually landed in the 7th Circuit, which held that disabled workers should be automatically reassigned to open positions for which they are qualified, unless the employer can establish an undue hardship that would result in that reassignment.

A panel of three judges wrote in its decision at the time, “The present case offers us the opportunity to correct this continuing error in our jurisprudence. We reverse and hold 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 that employer."

United asked the Supreme Court to review that decision, and yesterday, it declined to do so.

"We are gratified that the Seventh Circuit's ruling will stand," EEOC spokeswoman Justine Lisser told Reuters. "We now look forward to litigating the case in the district court."

Read more stories about this case on InsideCounsel:

Labor: Lessons from the EEOC’s aggressive pursuit of ADA cases

Labor: Disabled employees have a leg up for reassignment to vacant positions in certain states

ADA requires reassignment as a reasonable accommodation for disabled employees


Cathleen Flahardy

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