SW Legal studies in Business

Reasonable Accommodation Is Not to Upset Seniority Systems
Description Supreme Court held that in general seniority systems are protected from being upset by a disabled person demanding a position that would otherwise go to an employee with greater seniority and rights to the position under company work rules.
Topic Employment Discrimination
Key Words ADA, Disability, Reasonable Accommodation
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Barnett worked as a cargo handler for U.S. Air when he injured his back. At his request, he transferred to a less demanding position in the mailroom. However, under the seniority system at the company, another, more senior, employee was able to demand that position and, not having another such position available, he was fired. His suit for disability discrimination was dismissed by the trial court, but the appeals court held that seniority was only one factor to consider when accommodating employees. U.S. Air appealed.

When a request for disability accommodation conflicts with seniority, the burden is on the employee to show special circumstances why the general rule that seniority systems will not be upset should not hold. Exceptions to seniority systems can be made, but in general the ADA protects seniority systems and part of reasonable accommodation is not to upset such a system, so U.S. Air did not have to provide Barnett another position nor refuse to give his position to the more senior employee who demanded it under the rules.

Citation U.S. Airways, Inc. v. Barnett, 122 S.Ct. 1516 (2002)

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