United Airlines Inc. has agreed to pay $1 million to settle a case with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) involving the rights of disabled workers. In the case, the EEOC alleged that United failed to provide fair accommodations for workers who were unable to perform the duties of their current position due to disabilities.
The ADA requires employers to offer reasonable accommodations for disabled employees, including reassignment to a vacant position where possible. Under United’s reassignment policy, disabled workers were invited to apply for transfers to vacant positions for which they were qualified. Though their applications were given priority status, including guaranteed interviews, the process was competitive and the workers were not guaranteed the position.
According to the EEOC, United’s competitive reassignment policy failed to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled employees. The policy frequently left disabled, well-qualified employees without jobs, a result that the EEOC denounced as unwarranted and unfair. In a September 2012 ruling, the Seventh Circuit agreed, holding that United’s policy violated the ADA’s requirement to make reasonable accommodations.
In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider the case after an appeal, leading to the recent settlement. In the settlement, United agreed to pay $1 million to a group of former employees with disabilities, as well as change its competitive reassignment policy. They will also provide additional training for company leadership and submit periodic reports to the EEOC on disabled employees who were not successfully assigned to new positions.
This action is an encouraging sign for employees at United Airlines, and even more importantly, sets an important precedent for employers around the nation. Though ADA requirements cover all U.S. employers, there are murky areas where some employers take liberties.
This case clearly defines reasonable accommodations and will hopefully cause employers around the country to reexamine their disability policies. This is a positive step for America’s disabled employees.