Disabled employees are not entitled to more favorable treatment where the employer has a “best applicant” policy

EEOC v. St. Joseph’s Hospital, Case No. 15-1455 (11th Cir. December 7, 2016).

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit on behalf of a former nurse, who had worked in a psychiatric ward, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. (“ADA”) The employee had suffered an injury requiring her to use a cane to walk, which qualified her as being disabled under the ADA. However, the hospital determined that the cane presented a safety hazard in the psychiatric ward, since it could be used as a weapon. Therefore, the employer determined that the nurse could not continue working in the psychiatric ward; and hence, she was given at least thirty days to locate another position, for which she had to compete with other job applicants. The employee was unable to secure another position; and she was terminated at the end of the thirty-day period.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission maintained that the ADA requires employers to appoint employees who are losing their current positions due to disability, to a vacant position, for which they were qualified, without having to compete with other applicants. According to the Commission’s position, as long as the nurse was qualified for one of the open positions, the hospital was required to appoint her to one of those jobs, even if other applicants were more qualified. However, the Eleventh Circuit rejected the Commission’s argument, holding that the hospital did not violate the ADA by requiring the disabled nurse to compete for open positions in accordance with the employer’s best applicant policy. In short, the Eleventh Circuit explained that the ADA does not require disabled employees to be treated more favorably than non-disabled employees. Therefore, according to the Court, the Commission’s position of requiring reassignment of a disabled employee to an open position, without competition, when the hospital has a best applicant policy, would result in disabled employees being treated more favorably.

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