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Courts Split Over Granting Accommodations vs. Normal Competitive Application Process


It appears that some courts agree that employers do not need to abandon “best qualified” practices and policies in order to reassign employees to accommodate their disabilities.  The 11th Circuit in the case EEOC v. St. Joseph’s Hospital was another recent confirmation. In this case, a disabled nurse requested a transfer to accommodate a walking disability that required the use of a cane after it was determined that she was not qualified for her former position in the Behavior Health Unit (BHU) because her cane could pose a hazard.

The nurse bid on several jobs just as other internal candidates were required to do through the competitive bidding process but she was not selected for placement in any of these jobs.  As a result of not having a position, she was terminated by the hospital and then proceeded to file a charge against the hospital.  This led to the EEOC filing suit on her behalf.  The EEOC suit alleged that the hospital failed to grant her a reasonable accommodation either by letting her use the cane in her position in the BHU or by reassigning her to another position. 

The district court found that the use of the cane in the BHU was not a reasonable accommodation, given the unpredictability of the patients’ behavior, the plaintiff’s inability to walk even short distances, her inability to help restrain patients, and the potential use of the cane as a weapon by patients. The 11th Circuit rejected a long-standing position of the EEOC that as long as the disabled employee is qualified for the position the employer must place the employee in the vacant position and cannot require the employee to compete for it.

Disclaimer: The foregoing has been prepared for the general information of clients and friends of Workplace Dynamics LLC and is not being represented as being all-inclusive or complete. It has been abridged from legislation, administrative ruling, agency directives, and other information provided by the U.S. Department of Labor. It is not meant to provide legal advice with respect to any specific matter and should not be acted upon without professional counsel.