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ADA Protected Employees Must Compete

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that employers are not required to place disabled employees into vacant positions without requiring them to compete. It had been the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC's) position that qualified disabled employees were entitled to priority placement in vacant positions.

A nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital needed a cane to move around the psychiatric ward where she worked. The cane was considered a safety hazard in the ward (it could be used as a weapon), so she was given the chance to apply for other vacant positions. She was not given priority because of her disability. Rather, this nurse had to compete with other qualified applicants for each position for which she applied. As she was unable to obtain another position within the 30-day grace period given to her, she was fired. The EEOC brought suit on her behalf.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to reasonably accommodate disabled employees. A reasonable accommodation may include transfer to another position. However, the Eleventh Circuit found that demanding employers to automatically reassign disabled employees in contravention of the employer’s policy of best-qualified hiring was not required. The Court asserted that, “the ADA was never intended to turn nondiscrimination into discrimination against the non-disabled.” Reassignment to a vacant position was just one possible accommodation identified in the ADA as part of a non-exhaustive list of what reasonable accommodation “may” include.