The US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania granted summary judgment for employer ATT against employee Mikhail Haynes in a claim by Haynes that ATT failed to make a reasonable disability accommodation in the form of reassignment to a new position.
The plaintiff Haynes was employed at a call center in Pennsylvania where he was unsatisfied with the disability accommodations AT&T made for his HIV-status. A physician, backed by two peer reviews, submitted a medical evaluation stating Haynes required a less stressful work environment. AT&T provided Haynes with two 30-day paid leaves to allow him to find a more suitable position within AT&T. Haynes applied for several positions but was not hired, and after the second 30-day period AT&T terminated his contract. Haynes brought several claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") (note that claims were filed after the effective date of 2008 ADA Amendments Act, so there was no dispute that HIV is a "disability" under the ADA). The Magistrate Judge granted summary judgment on all claims except for the failure-to-reassign claim. AT&T appealed the denial on the remaining claim.
On this appeal, the District Court granted summary judgment for AT&T. The District Court agreed with the Magistrate Judge that the reasonable accommodation test outlined in U.S. Airways v. Barnett, 535 U.S. 391 (US 2001) (if the requested accommodation is "reasonable in the run of cases," the burden is on the employer to show undue hardship for giving that accommodation) applied in this case. The court disagreed with the alternative view that a policy of hiring the "best qualified" candidate can wholly displace ADA reasonable accommodation requirements to reassign. However, the District Court further notes that the Magistrate Judge misapplied step one of the Barnett test. Specifically, the relevant question was not simply whether reassignment to a vacant position was a reasonable accommodation, but rather whether reassignment to a vacant position over a more qualified applicant when the employer has a policy of hiring only the most qualified candidate is reasonable. The District Court held that absent "special circumstances," reassignment over a better-qualified candidate when company policy is to hire the best candidate is not "reasonable in the run of cases." The court, however, did not explain what those "special circumstances" might be as a guide for future plaintiffs. Haynes' specific claim failed because he did not provide affirmative evidence that he was even minimally qualified for the vacant positions he applied for, indicating that reassignment would not be reasonable.