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Federal appeals court rules employers must place disabled employees in qualified vacant positions

The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] on Friday ruled [opinion, PDF] that disabled employees are to be appointed within their company to vacant positions that they are qualified to hold. The case was brought in 2009 by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) [official website] against United Airlines, now United Continental Holdings (UAL) [corporate website]. The ruling acts on a recommendation [opinion, PDF] by the same three-judge panel in March that the Seventh Circuit overturn its own decision [opinion, txt] in a case from 2000 in which the court held that the Americans with Disabilities Act [text] does not require employers to reassign disabled employees to a vacant position for which they are qualified:

The present case offers us the opportunity to correct this continuing error in our jurisprudence ... We reverse and hold that the ADA does indeed mandate that an employer appoint employees with disabilities to vacant positions for which they are qualified, provided that such accommodations would be ordinarily reasonable and would not present an undue hardship to that employer ... The Supreme Court first noted that "[t]he simple fact that an accommodation would provide a 'preference' — in the sense that it would permit the worker with a disability to violate a rule that others must obey — cannot, in and of itself, automatically show that the accommodation is not 'reasonable.'"
The earlier decision did not have to be overturned by the full court because Circuit Rule 40(e) [materials] permits a panel of the court to overrule established circuit precedent if the panel's proposed opinion is circulated among the active members of the court and a majority of those circuit judges vote not to rehear the case en banc.

This has been a difficult week for the UAL legal team. On Tuesday federal judge ruled [JURIST report] that UAL and others must stand trial to defend against a claim by World Trade Center Properties (WTCP), the owners of the World Trade Center towers, that the negligence of the airlines allowed the hijackers to board the planes that eventually destroyed the towers on 9/11 [JURIST backgrounder].

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