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ADA Doesn't Require Reassignment of a Disabled Employee

By William Vogeler, Esq. on December 22, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

An employer does not have to reassign a disabled employee to a vacant position ahead of more qualified, non-disabled employees, a federal appeals court said.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals said the American with Disabilities Act "only requires an employer allow a disabled person to compete equally with the rest of the world for a vacant position" as a reasonable accommodation.

"The ADA does not require reassignment without competition for, or preferential treatment of, the disabled," the panel said.

Not the Employer's Job to Get a Job

Leokadia Bryk, a disabled nurse, sought a job reassignment to another unit at St. Joseph's Hospital because she needed a cane. Bryk, a 62-year-old obese woman, could only walk short distances without a cane. After taking a few steps, she would need to stop to realign her body, which posed a safety hazard in the psychiatric ward where she worked.

The hospital offered her a 30-day application period during which she could apply for other positions internally. Although the hospital said "it wasn't their job to get a job for Bryk," human resources were available to answer questions and guide her through the process.

She competed for seven positions, but did not qualify in time over other applicants. The hospital then terminated her employment.

Reasonable Accommodations

The appeals court said an employer must reasonably accommodate a disabled employee, but the ADA does not say how an employer must do that. The court said that "employers are only required to provide 'alternative employment opportunities reasonably available under the employer's existing policies.'"

"This case may have turned out differently had St. Joseph's Hospital not had a best-qualified applicant policy in place," according to FordHarrison lawyers. "Because it did, the court found the ADA only requires that an employer allow the disabled employee to compete equally for a vacant position."

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