Magazine article Workforce

Supreme Court: Seniority Practices vs. Accommodation Request

Magazine article Workforce

Supreme Court: Seniority Practices vs. Accommodation Request

Article excerpt

Briefing

Robert Barnett, a non-union employee of US Airways, Inc., was transferred to a less demanding mail room position after injuring his back while working in a cargo-handling job. When the position he held became open for bidding on the basis of seniority rules unilaterally adopted by the company, US Airways rejected Barnett's request to exempt his position from bidding, and he lost his job to another, more senior employee.

Claiming that US Airways had failed to reasonably accommodate his disability, Barnett filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a lower court's dismissal of his action and ruled that "a seniority system is not a per se bar to reassignment" but should be considered as a factor in deciding whether a proposed accommodation would pose an undue hardship to the employer.

The US. Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit's decision. In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that in situations involving a conflict between a requested accommodation and a seniority system, "the seniority system will prevail in the run of cases. …

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