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Huber v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. - 486 F.3d 480 (8th Cir. 2007)

Rule:

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is not an affirmative action statute and does not require an employer to reassign a qualified disabled employee to a vacant position when such a reassignment would violate a legitimate nondiscriminatory policy of the employer to hire the most qualified candidate.

Facts:

Plaintiff Pam Huber worked for defendant Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., as a dry grocery order-filler earning $ 13.00 per hour, including a $ 0.50 shift differential. While working for Wal-Mart, Huber sustained a permanent injury to her right arm and hand. As a result, she could no longer perform the essential functions of the order-filler job. The parties stipulated Huber's injury is a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), 42 U.S.C.S. §§ 12101 to 12213. Because of her disability, Huber sought, as a reasonable accommodation, reassignment to a router position, which the parties stipulated was a vacant and equivalent position under the ADA. Wal-Mart, however, did not agree to reassign Huber automatically to the router position. Instead, pursuant to its policy of hiring the most qualified applicant for the position, Wal-Mart required Huber to apply and compete for the router position with other applicants. Ultimately, Wal-Mart filled the job with a non-disabled applicant and denied Huber the router position. Wal-Mart indicated, although Huber was qualified with or without an accommodation to perform the duties of the router position, she was not the most qualified candidate. The parties stipulated the individual hired for the router position was the most qualified candidate. Wal-Mart later placed Huber at another facility in a maintenance associate position (janitorial position), which paid $ 6.20 per hour. While still employed at that position and earning $ 7.97 per hour, Huber filed lawsuit against Wal-Mart under the ADA, arguing she should have been reassigned to the router position as a reasonable accommodation for her disability. Wal-Mart filed a motion for summary judgment, contending it had a legitimate non-discriminatory policy of hiring the most qualified applicant for all job vacancies and was not required to reassign Huber to the router position. Huber filed a cross-motion for summary judgment; the district court granted Huber's motion. Wal-Mart appealed.

Issue:

Under the ADA, was Wal-Mart, an employer that had an established policy to fill vacant job positions with the most qualified applicant, required to reassign Huber, a qualified disabled employee, to a vacant position, even though Huber was not the most qualified applicant for the position?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The court of appeals reversed the district court's judgment and remanded the case for entry of judgment in favor of Wal-Mart. The court found that the ADA did not require Wal-Mart to turn away a superior applicant for the router position in order to give the position to Huber. The court ruled that Wal-Mart did not violate its duty, under the ADA, to provide a reasonable accommodation to Huber. The court reasoned that Wal-Mart reasonably accommodated Huber’s disability by placing Huber in a maintenance associate position. The maintenance position may not have been a perfect substitute job, or Huber's most preferred alternative job, but an employer was not required to provide a disabled employee with an accommodation that was ideal from the employee's perspective.

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