Magazine article Personnel Journal

Reasonable Accommodation May Include Transfer

Magazine article Personnel Journal

Reasonable Accommodation May Include Transfer

Article excerpt

The U.S. COURT OF APPEALS for the Ninth Circuit concludes that the U.S. Postal Service may have violated the rights of an employee with AIDS when it refused the employee's request for a transfer from Mississippi to Los Angeles to receive better medical treatment.

Melvin Buckingham contracted HIV while working as a urology technician in the U.S. Navy. Following his honorable discharge from the Navy, he began working as a postal clerk in Columbus, Mississippi, in May 1988. Buckingham later informed the local postmaster that he had AIDS, and requested a transfer to Los Angeles so that he could receive better medical treatment.

Buckingham took a leave of absence and moved to California. After he did so, the Los Angeles post office denied his request for a transfer, citing a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) governing job transfers.

Buckingham sued the Postal Service in federal district court for violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires recipients of federal funds, including the Postal Service, to provide reasonable accommodation to handicapped employees.

In 1991, a federal district court granted Buckingham's motion for summary judgment, granted him an injunction and awarded him back pay, attorney's fees and costs. It concluded that the seniority requirements of the CBA cannot be enforced when they conflict with the requirements of the Rehabilitation Act. The Postal Service appealed.

The Ninth Circuit on appeal found that under the Rehabilitation Act, the duty on employers goes beyond merely avoiding discrimination. It also requires that the Postal Service make reasonable accommodation for the known physical or mental limitations of a qualified handicapped employee, unless it can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of its business.

Given the duty the Act places on employers, the court concluded there was no "merit" to the Postal Service's argument that the requested transfer was per se unreasonable. …

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