- Ford Motor Co. didn't violate the Americans with Disabilities Act when it took roughly 10 months to reassign a worker with a disability, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled (Johnson v. Ford Motor Co. No. 19-1123 (6th Cir. Dec. 6, 2019)).
- Randona Johnson took five months of medical leave, during which time Ford filled his position. Johnson requested reassignment to a vacant position as an accommodation, but it took Ford many months to offer him a job. He sued, alleging the company failed to accommodate his disability.
- A district court ruled granted summary judgment for Ford and the 6th Circuit affirmed. The ADA considers reassignment a reasonable accommodation but it does not require employers to create new positions, the court noted. Moreover, it said, Ford provided ample evidence that it had no openings and that facilities could not exceed headcount limits set by the finance department; Johnson offered no evidence to the contrary.
The ADA requires that employers provide accommodations for workers with disabilities, and specifically notes that reassignment to a vacant position for which an employee is qualified can be required.
Courts disagree, however, on whether those transfers must be noncompetitive — in other words, whether employees should be given the job even if other, more-qualified candidates are available. Notably, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces the ADA, takes the position that reassignment is noncompetitive.
Importantly, however, enforcement authorities generally consider reassignment the accommodation of last resort. The ADA's accommodation mandate is aimed at keeping employees in their current positions, so employers are encouraged to prioritize accommodations that allow employees to continue performing the essential functions of their current job. Only if there are none do experts tend to recommend leave or reassignment.