- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn't entitle workers with disabilities to non-competitive transfers, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina held, granting summary judgment for Lowe's Home Centers (Elledge v. Lowe's Home Centers LLC, No. 16-cv-00227 (W.D.N.C. Dec. 20, 2018)).
- As district manager, the employee, Charles Elledge, was responsible for visiting the eight stores in his district to evaluate the merchandise and store appearance. Following leave for knee replacement surgery, Lowe's allowed him to return to work with restrictions. Once it became clear that Elledge's restrictions were permanent, he expressed interested in reassignment. The employer asked him to identify open positions in which he was interested; he applied for three internal positions but was not hired. The employer suggested other positions, but Elledge made clear he was not interested in jobs that would amount to a demotion.
- Elledge sued, alleging disability discrimination. A federal district court, however, said Elledge had failed to demonstrate that he was able to perform the essential functions of the job or that he would be able to perform the functions in the future. The court also noted that Elledge's proposed accommodations — a permanent, light-duty position or reassignment over better-qualified applicants — were not reasonable accommodations.
The ADA requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee's disability unless the employer would suffer an undue hardship as a result. Once an employer is aware of a limitation caused by an impairment, the law expects the employer and employee work together to identify an accommodation — something known as the interactive process.
The ADA does not require an employer to assign an employee to permanent light duty, however; "lightening the load of one employee adds to the load of another," the Elledge court said.
And perhaps most notably, the court said Elledge was not entitled to "special treatment" in violation of Lowe’s longstanding non-discrimination job application and hiring policy. While the federal appellate courts are split on whether an employer must reassign an employee with a disability to a vacant position if that hiring violates or contradicts a neutral, nondiscriminatory hiring policy, the 4th Circuit (which includes North Carolina) has not squarely addressed the issue, the court said. It has, however, "indicated that it probably sides with the Circuits that have held that the ADA is not an affirmative action statute and only requires that disabled persons be allowed to compete equally with nondisabled persons," the Elledge court said, explaining its reasoning.