Stay informed and ready to meet both everyday challenges and long-term planning and policy-making goals, with focused news, practical information, and strategic insights on all HR-related...
Dec. 7 — Businesses don’t have to reassign their disabled workers into open positions ahead of more qualified, nondisabled employees, a federal appeals court in Atlanta ruled ( EEOC v. St. Joseph’s Hosp. , 2016 BL 406826, 11th Cir., No. 15-14551, 12/7/16 ).
The decision is important because the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit rejected a position championed by the federal agency tasked with enforcing federal job rights laws that disabled workers are generally entitled to reassignment free from competition.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission “has been pressing this issue forever,” Rae T. Vann of NT Lakis LLP told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 7. She said a contrary ruling by the Eleventh Circuit would have undercut the notion that an employer’s business judgment is entitled to deference under the Americans with Disabilities Act, including with regard to operational efficiency and employee performance.
The Washington-based management firm represented employer advocate the Equal Employment Advisory Council as an amicus in the case.
The Eleventh Circuit also rejected the EEOC’s argument that the other federal appeals courts are divided on the question.
Rather, the Eighth Circuit similarly held in 2007 that the ADA isn’t an affirmative action law and that employers aren’t required to turn away superior job candidates in favor of disabled workers seeking reassignment as a work accommodation, visiting Judge C. Huck said for the Eleventh Circuit. The Fifth Circuit’s view is consistent with the Eighth Circuit’s ruling, Huck added.
Contrary to the EEOC’s argument, the Seventh Circuit didn’t actually decide the question in a 2012 ruling, nor did the Tenth Circuit in 1999, Huck found. The District of Columbia Circuit discussed the issue in a 1998 decision but only in nonbinding dictum, Huck said.
The ruling upholds part of a lower court’s decision in favor of Tampa, Fla.'s St. Joseph’s Hospital in a case brought by the EEOC on behalf of former nurse Leokadia Bryk. Beginning in 2009, Bryk had used a cane while working to alleviate back and hip pain stemming from arthritis, spinal stenosis and hip replacement surgery.
However, the hospital informed Bryk in October 2011 that she couldn’t use her cane while working because she worked in the psychiatric ward and using it there posed a safety risk to employees and patients.
But she was given the chance to remain with St. Joseph’s if she was able to find a suitable open position she could transfer into within 30 days. The hospital also said it would extend the 30-day window for any job Bryk was being considered for when the initial 30 days lapsed.
Bryk ultimately failed to obtain a transfer within the hospital and was fired. The EEOC sued, arguing in part that she should have been granted a reassignment to another job outside of the psychiatric ward without having to compete for the position.
In addition to recounting the similar rulings by the Eighth and Fifth circuits, the Eleventh Circuit also relied on the express language of the ADA in holding that the statute doesn’t require an employer to abandon a “best-qualified applicant policy” like the one followed by St. Joseph’s and give disabled workers “preferential treatment” in job reassignments.
“The ADA does not say or imply that reassignment is always reasonable,” Huck wrote. Rather, the ADA uses the word “may,” which indicates that a reassignment may sometimes be a reasonable accommodation and that other times it may not. The ADA only requires employers to reasonably accommodate disabled workers, Huck said.
The court also cited its own prior rulings on the issue as well as the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in U.S. Airways, Inc. v. Barnett, 535 U.S. 391, 12 AD Cases 1729 (2002).
The justices held in Barnett that the ADA doesn’t require an employer to ignore an established seniority system for awarding reassignments when a disabled worker seeks reassignment as an accommodation, Huck said. As in Barnett, he found, requiring an employer to violate a best-qualified applicant policy in favor of a disabled worker wouldn’t ordinarily be reasonable and the EEOC didn’t show otherwise here.
“As things generally run, employers operate their businesses for profit, which requires efficiency and good performance. Passing over the best-qualified applicants in favor of less-qualified ones is not a reasonable way to promote efficiency or good performance,” the Eleventh Circuit wrote.
Vann told Bloomberg BNA the facts of the instant case provide a good example of why that’s so. “You don’t go to the hospital to be treated by someone who is minimally qualified,” she said.
Judges Ed Carnes and Joel F. Dubina joined the opinion.
The EEOC through a spokeswoman Dec. 7 declined to comment on the ruling. Counsel for the hospital didn’t respond Dec. 7 to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment.
Gail S. Coleman of the EEOC in Washington and Ana Consuelo Martinez, Kimberly A. McCoy and Daniel L. Seltzer of the EEOC in Miami represented the commission. Thomas M. Gonzalez and Erin G. Jackson of Thompson Sizemore Gonzalez & Hearing P.A. in Tampa, Fla., represented the hospital.
To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at email@example.com
Text of the opinion is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/UNITED_STATES_EQUAL_EMPLOYMENT_OPPORTUNITY_COMMISSION_Plaintiff_A.
Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).
This Bloomberg BNA report is available on standing order, which ensures you will all receive the latest edition. This report is updated annually and we will send you the latest edition once it has been published. By signing up for standing order you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you need. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.372.1033, option 5, or by sending us an email to email@example.com.
Put me on standing order
Notify me when new releases are available (no standing order will be created)