- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has sued Citizens Bank, claiming that it engaged in disability bias by refusing to reassign an employee with anxiety to one of several vacant positions.
- The employee was a supervisor at one of the bank's call centers. When he developed anxiety, he requested reassignment to a position that did not require him to field customer phone calls. According to the EEOC's complaint, the employee's symptoms became so severe that he was forced to take a medical leave of absence. When Citizens refused to reassign the employee, even though there were multiple vacant positions within 45 minutes of the call center, or discuss alternative accommodations with him, he was forced to resign, the EEOC alleges.
- The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island on July 2 after failed attempts to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The agency is seeking back pay, compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive relief.
The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of disability and requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation to a qualified individual with a disability, unless the accommodation would pose an undue hardship on the employer. The ADA explicitly recognizes reassignment to a vacant position as a type of reasonable accommodation that may be provided.
According to the EEOC, the employee must be "qualified" for the new position. An employee is considered qualified for a position if he or she (1) satisfies the requisite skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of the position, and (2) can perform the essential functions of the new position, with or without reasonable accommodation. Note that the employee does not need to be the best-qualified individual for the position in order to obtain it as a reassignment.
An employer is not obligated to help the person to become qualified for the new position, meaning that the employer does not have to provide training so that the employee acquires the necessary skills. Employers do, however, have to provide an employee with a disability who is being reassigned with any training that is normally provided to anyone hired for or transferred to the position.
The reassignment must be to a vacant position that is equivalent in terms of pay, status, or other relevant factors (such as benefits or location). If there is no vacant equivalent position, the employer must reassign the employee to a vacant lower level position for which the individual is qualified.
Note that there is currently a split among federal appeals courts as to whether an employer must reassign an employee with a disability if that reassignment contradicts or violates a neutral, nondiscriminatory hiring policy.