In a significant case involving an employer’s obligation to transfer a disabled employee, who cannot perform the essential functions of the employee’s current position, to an open, vacant position, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that an employer’s policy of hiring the most qualified candidate to fill vacant positions need not be ignored by placing a less qualified, disabled employee meeting the minimum qualifications for that position in that position absent special circumstances. Stated another way, an employer is not ordinarily required to provide a competition-free transfer to a vacant position as a reasonable accommodation to a qualified individual with disability.
The court remanded the case to the district court for further consideration to determine if the EEOC can raise a genuine issue of material fact that there are special circumstances in this particular case, justifying an exception to the most-qualified applicant policy such that the exception constitutes a reasonable accommodation. Thus, while a claim that a failure to provide a competition-free transfer or reassignment to an open position as a reasonable accommodation is not foreclosed as a matter of law, this case puts the employee to the burden of showing that hers is an extraordinary case and that special circumstances exist that warrant making an exception to the most-qualified applicant hiring policy.
You can download EEOC v. Methodist Hospitals of Dallas here.