A federal district court in Pennsylvania has granted summary judgment in favor of an employer under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) on a question of reasonable accommodation involving the termination of an employee with AIDS.

The employee in Haynes v. AT&T Mobility, LLC, C.A. No. 1:09-CV-450 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 8, 2011) could neither perform the essential functions of his job nor obtain an alternate vacant position because the employer had a policy of hiring the “most qualified” candidate. The employee, a customer service representative, sought a number of reasonable accommodations for his condition, including a less stressful job environment.

The employer conducted a “peer review” of the treating physician’s recommendation, which supported a less stressful work situation as medically necessary. The treating physician subsequently clarified that the employee should not be subjected to a constant flow of customer telephone calls and performance reviews.

Based on these limitations, the employer concluded that the employee no longer could perform the essential functions of the customer service position and placed him on a 30-day paid leave. The employee was encouraged to apply for a more suitable position with the company. The employer extended the initial 30-day paid leave by 30 days of unpaid leave to provide him with an opportunity to find an alternative job. In ADA parlance, the employer was exploring reassignment to a vacant position as the “accommodation of last resort.”

The employee applied, but was not selected, for a number of positions. Ultimately, his employment was terminated. In challenging his non-selection for an alternative position, the employee argued that he should have been reassigned to a vacant position for which he possessed the minimum qualifications, even if other candidates’ qualifications were superior.

The court rejected this standard for reassignment accommodations under the ADA. Initially, the court noted that the employer had an established hiring policy to select the most qualified candidate. The court noted that although there may be cases in which a jury should determine which candidate’s qualifications are superior, the nature of the accommodation sought in this case, and the fact that the employee failed to present evidence of his superior qualifications, permitted the court to assume his qualifications were not superior to other candidates’. For these reasons, the employer was found not to have violated the ADA.

If you have questions about the ADA and/or the obligation to provide reasonable accommodation for disabled employees, please contact Brian D. Pedrow at 215.864.8108 or pedrow@ballardspahr.com.

Copyright © 2011 by Ballard Spahr LLP.
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