Court denies United Airlines' disability discrimination petition

Houston residents may know that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires their employers to offer reasonable accommodations to workers with disabilities. In some cases, this means that an employer needs to transfer a newly disabled employee into a vacant position for which he or she is qualified. Some employers, including United Airlines, have required workers with disabilities to compete for vacant positions, but a court ruling has found that the ADA requires job reassignment, not competition.

In 2009, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the airline for violating the ADA by forcing workers with disabilities to compete for new roles instead of simply reassigning them. A federal appeals court ultimately agreed with the EEOC, but United Airlines appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has now decided not to hear the appeal, and to leave the lower court's ruling in tact.

United Airlines had argued that reassigning disabled workers into new positions instead of making them compete against other candidates would be a form of affirmative action. The company said it would take away the employer's right to select the best job candidate.

The Supreme Court's refusal to review the case, however, shows that job reassignment is a reasonable accomodation under the ADA. This means that when a worker with a disability cannot be accomodated in his or her current role, he or she should be reassigned to another position for which he or she is qualified. To do otherwise would prevent workers with disabilities from maintaining employment, and this would be disability discrimination.

This case should remind Houston residents that federal law requires employers to provide reasonable accomodations for those with disabilities. If employers fail to do so, they may be violating the law and legal recourse may be available.

Source: Bloomberg, "United Airlines Rejected by Top Court on Disabilities Law," Greg Stohr, May 28, 2013

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