Please be advised that contacting Ruder Ware by e-mail does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you contact the firm by e-mail with respect to a matter where the firm does not already represent you, any information which you disclose to us may not be regarded as privileged or confidential.


Accept   Cancel

Please be advised that contacting Ruder Ware by e-mail does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you contact the firm by e-mail with respect to a matter where the firm does not already represent you, any information which you disclose to us may not be regarded as privileged or confidential.


Accept   Cancel

PAL Login

linkedin.jpgyoutube.jpgvimeo.jpgtwitter_off.png View Ruder Ware

Employment Blog

Reassignment to a Vacant Position Under the ADA: Eleventh Circuit Concludes the Best Candidate Gets the Job - But What About Wisconsin?

Authored by Ruder Ware Attorneys
Posted on December 22, 2016
Filed under Employment

Earlier this month, the United State's Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, in EEOC v. St. Joseph's Hospital, Inc., announced that the Americans with Disabilities Act does not, as a reasonable accommodation, require the transfer of a disabled employee into a vacant position without consideration of the qualifications of other candidates competing for the same position. In St. Joseph's Hospital, Inc., a disabled nurse sought an accommodation in the form of a job reassignment to another care unit at the hospital because she required the use of a cane, which posed a safety hazard in the psychiatric ward where she worked. ln response to the nurse's accommodation request, the hospital permitted her to apply for other available jobs, but she was required to compete for these positions. When this nurse failed to obtain a new position, the hospital terminated her employment -- and eventually, the EEOC brought suit on her behalf. On appeal from the District Court's decision, the Eleventh Circuit was asked to consider whether the ADA requires job reassignment without competition as a reasonable accommodation, as the EEOC advocated.

Significantly, at least according to the Eleventh Circuit, "the ADA does not require reassignment without competition for, or preferential treatment of, the disabled." To that end, the Court opined, "[r]equiring reassignment in violation of an employer's best-qualified hiring or transfer policy is not reasonable in the run of cases," noting that "[p]assing over the best-qualified job applicants in favor of less-qualified ones is not a reasonable way to promote efficiency or good performance." The Court concluded that the ADA "only requires an employer [sic] allow a disabled person to compete equally with the rest of the world for a vacant position."  In reaching this conclusion, the Eleventh Circuit joined the Fifth and Eighth Circuits.

However, at first blush, St. Joseph's Hospital, Inc., appears to be at odds with the Seventh Circuit's 2012 opinion in EEOC v. United Airlines, Inc., which governs the interpretation of the ADA as applied to workplaces located in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. In United Airlines. Inc., the Seventh Circuit reasoned that an employer's deviation from its best-qualified selection policy -- in favor of a disabled candidate -- may indeed be a reasonable accommodation. In reaching this conclusion, the Court repudiated its prior holding on the subject, that the "ADA does not require an employer to reassign a disabled employee to a job for which there is a better applicant, provided it's the employer's consistent and honest policy to hire the best applicant for the particular job in question." The Eleventh Circuit in St. Joseph's Hospital, Inc., points out, however, that instead of "deciding the issue" concerning transfer without consideration of competition from other candidates, the Seventh Circuit "remanded it to the district court for decision in the first instance." The Eleventh Circuit's interpretation of United Airlines, Inc. ¡s certainly inconsistent with the EEOC's public characterization of the case, available here [https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/6-11-15.cfm] and, at a minimum, the Seventh Circuit's opinion clearly signals that even though an employer may prefer to employ the best-qualified candidates and have a policy to that effect, the deviation from such a policy would not necessarily create an undue hardship for the employer.

The St. Joseph's Hospital, Inc. decision is the latest in a string of divergent decisions that appear to be headed to the Supreme Court to resolve the split. Until then, notwithstanding St. Joseph's Hospital, Inc., employers in Wisconsin and their legal counsel are wise to consider United Airlines" Inc. in evaluating whether a job transfer, without consideration of the qualifications of other candidates competing for the same position, is appropriate or required under the circumstances.