Court Decisions & Disability Issues Briefs
A project of the Southeast ADA Center and Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University

Huber v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

U.S. Supreme Court
Settlement Agreement Reached
January 14, 2008

Facts of the Case

Before acquiring her disability, Pam Huber earned $13.00 per hour as an Order Filler in Wal-Mart's Clarksville, Arkansas distribution center. Ms. Huber then injured her right arm and hand in an accident, was no longer able to perform her job duties, and requested that Wal-Mart accommodate her by transferring her to a vacant, equivalent position. At the time Ms. Huber requested this accommodation, there was an open Router position in the Clarksville distribution center that paid $12.50 an hour. Even though Ms. Huber was qualified for the Router position, rather than transfer her, Wal-Mart required her to compete for the position and then filled the position with another person they believed to be better qualified. Wal-Mart then assigned Ms. Huber to a janitorial position at another facility, reducing her pay to $6.20 an hour.

Ms. Huber sued Wal-Mart, claiming that their refusal to transfer her to the vacant, equivalent position constituted discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). The trial court agreed with Ms. Huber, and said that "forcing a qualified, disabled employee to compete with others in order to be provided a reassignment as a reasonable accommodation for [her] disability violates the ADA." Wal-Mart appealed that order to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed the trial courtís decision. The appellate court said that the ADA only required Wal-Mart to allow Ms. Huber to compete for the Router position and that the statute did not require Wal-Mart to turn away a superior applicant. Quoting the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in EEOC v. Humiston-Keeling (2007), the court added, "To conclude otherwise is 'affirmative action with a vengeance. That is giving a job to someone solely on the basis of his status as a member of a statutorily protected group."

Ms. Huber appealed this decision to the United States Supreme Court, which granted a writ of certiorari to hear the case in 2008. On January 14, 2008, however, the parties reached a confidential settlement agreement.

Issue of the Case

  1. When an employee is prevented from performing the essential functions of her/his current position because of a disability, and there is a vacant, equivalent position for which the employee is qualified, does the ADA require the employer to reassign the employee to that position even when there is a more qualified applicant?

Arguments & Analysis

1. Under the ADA, discrimination specifically includes failing to provide reasonable accommodations to the known limitations of a qualified individual with a disability, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship.

The ADA further provides that reassignment to a vacant position is an example of a reasonable accommodation that employers may offer.

2. Ms. Huber argued that because she was qualified, she should have been reassigned to the Router position, and that by selecting someone else and denying her the reassignment Wal-Mart violated the ADA.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which created the regulations to implement the employment provisions of the ADA, has indicated the employee only has to be qualified for the vacant, equivalent position, and does not need to be the best qualified person for the position in order to be reassigned to it. Wal-Mart argued that it allowed Ms. Huber to compete for the Router position, but did not select her because she was not the best qualified applicant.

3. Two U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals, the Tenth and District of Columbia, have held that in factually similar situations the ADA requires the employer to reassign the employee to the vacant, equivalent position.

4. Two other circuits, the Seventh and Eighth, have held that the ADA does not require reassignment, but only requires employers to permit the employee to compete with other applicants for the position.

Rulings

The Supreme Court was set to hear oral arguments in this case in the spring of 2008, however, the Court agreed to dismiss this suit on January 14, 2008, after Ms. Huber and Walmart reached a confidential settlement. For now, whether the ADA requires an employer to reassign an employee with a disability to a vacant position for which a more qualified applicant exists is a question that will remain unanswered by the nation's highest court. The Eighth Circuit's decision that the employer does not have to reassign the employee with a disability to the position but can place a more qualified individual in the position, will stand.

Links

Disclaimer:

These materials do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon in any individual case. Please consult an attorney licensed in your state for legal advice and/or representation. These materials were prepared by the legal research staff of the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University in partnership with the Southeast ADA Center to highlight legal and policy developments relevant to civil rights protections and the impact of court decisions in the Southeast Region under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These materials are based on federal disability rights laws and court decisions in effect at the time of publication. Federal and state disability rights law can change at any time.  In addition, state and local laws and regulations may provide different or additional protections. Materials are intended solely as informal guidance, and are neither a determination of your legal rights nor responsibilities under the ADA or other federal, state, and local laws, nor binding on any agency with enforcement responsibility under the ADA. The accuracy of any information contained herein is not warranted. Any links to external websites are provided as a courtesy and are not intended to nor do they constitute an endorsement of the linked materials.

Southeast ADA Center

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