Disability Discrimination the ADA Case Study

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Huber v WalMart

In the United States, the 1990 American's with Disabilities Act (ADA) was a huge step forward in Civil and Individual Rights that protects against discrimination and requires access to all public organizations. To broaden this, the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) includes a major list of life activities and enhances the requirements for accessibility. Broadly defined, an individual has a disability if they have something physical or mental that prevents them from engaging in a major activity that most people take for granted. The law already addresses equal employment opportunities, (Title 1 of the ADA), but other parts of the ADA are more focused to what is known as "reasonable accommodation." This means that if an individual is otherwise qualified for a position, their disability, or impairment, must not be a factor in being hired, promoted, or otherwise actualized within the position.

In the case of Huber v. Wal-Mart, Pam Huber worked for Wal-Mart as a dry grocery order filler. She was not disabled when she was put in this position, but permanently injured her right arm as a result of a workplace injury. As a reasonable accommodation, Huber requested to be assigned to a router position, which both parties agreed was a vacant position and equivalent. Although the parties agreed that Huber was qualified, she was not the most qualified for that position. Huber was given a different position at another facility, but her salary was lowered from $13/hour to $6.70/hour. The District Court found in favor of Huber, but the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision and sided with Wal-Mart (Huber v Wal-Mart, 2007).

Part 1 -- In the case, both parties stipulated to some basic facts: Huber was injured while working, she was qualified for the vacant position, and she would be given another position to accommodate her disability. The germane issue was the actual qualifications for the router position.
While Huber was qualified, she was not the most qualified, and therefore, placing her in that position over a candidate with more qualifications would be discriminatory as well. The Court found that Wal-Mart was required, under the ADA, to compete for the router job, but it did not require Wal-Mart to hire her or turn away a superior applicant. The Court indicated that:

The contrary rule would convert a nondiscrimination statute into a mandatory preference statute, a result which would be both inconsistent with the non-discriminatory aims of the ADA and an unreasonable imposition on the employers and coworkers of disabled employees. A policy of giving the job to the best applicant is legitimate and nondiscriminatory. Decisions on the merits are not discriminatory (Huber v Wal-Mart).

If Wal-Mart had automatically put Huber into the router position based on ADA law, they would have violated EEOC law. In fact, the ADA says that an employer is free to select the most qualified applicant available and to make decisions based on reasons unrelated to a disability. Reasonable Accommodation is defined as "any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions. Reasonable accommodation also includes adjustments to assure that a qualified individual with a disability has rights and privileges in employment equal to those of employees without disabilities" (USEEOC, 2012).

Note that this says "reasonable" which would include finding ways to "help" work a position, not simply being moved into a position because of a disability. It would be impossible for the legal system to force a lesser qualified candidate into a job in which there was a more qualified candidate. That said, the injury did occur during work hours, and Wal-Mart should be somewhat more sensitive to this issue.….....

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