EEOC v. United Airlines, Part II — Denying a Disabled Employee’s Request to Fill a Vacant Position as an Accommodation Because More Qualified Candidates are Available Remains Problematic Under the ADA
Four months ago we reported on the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upholding United Airlines’ position in a lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that United did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by its policy of filling vacant positions with the most qualified candidate even though another employee, unable to perform his own job because of a disability, had applied for the vacant position as a reasonable accommodation. The three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit that issued that decision has now vacated its opinion and has decided the case in favor of the EEOC. The panel’s reversal of its position is not that surprising. The panel originally ruled in favor of United because it felt bound by a Seventh Circuit ruling in a similar case decided in 2000, EEOC v. Humiston-Keeling. The panel, however, questioned that earlier decision in light of the Supreme Court’s 2002 decision in US Airways, Inc. v. Barnett and thus recommended that the issue be considered by the court en banc (i.e. by the entire membership of the Seventh Circuit). The EEOC promptly moved for reconsideration en banc. Each member of the court expressed the view that EEOC v. Humiston-Keeling should be overruled and, in lieu of formally rehearing the case en banc, simply directed the original panel to vacate its decision and issue a new opinion.