Supreme Court to Review Wal-Mart ADA Hiring Case

December 11, 2007 ( - The nation's high court has agreed to decide whether federal disabilities law requires employers to give disabled workers preference for an opening regardless of whether they are the strongest available candidate, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The U.S. Supreme Court will review a case from the 8 th  U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals involving a Wal-Mart warehouse order filler in Clarksville, Arkansas. The employee claimed the giant retailer should have given her a leg up on her application for a desk job as a router after she hurt her right arm and hand at work.  

Pam Huber contended the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) required the company to reassign her to the router job as a reasonable accommodation to her disability, according to the court documents.    In fact, her lawyers argued in court,  Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rules require employers to favor disabled employees under the ADA.

The company instead transferred Huber to another facility as a janitor where she now earns $7.97 per hour – down from $13 per hour in her original position, court documents said.

For its part, the company contended it had a proper motivation for hiring the best person available for a job and that the ADA did not require it to give Huber preference over anyone else vying for the position.

A federal judge in the U.S.   District Court for the Western District of Arkansas sided with Huber. In May 2007, the 8 th  Circuit threw out the lower court’s holding and sided with the employer.

Noting that the Huber matter represented the first time it had pondered the particular ADA issue and that other federal appellate courts had disagreed on the matter, the 8 th  Circuit judges decided to follow the lead of the 7 th  U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the 8 th  Circuit ruling,   Circuit Judge William Jay Riley said he and his colleagues agreed that the 7 th  Circuit's approach was the proper one. That meant, Riley wrote for the court, that Huber was not entitled, as a reasonable accommodation, to be reassigned automatically to the router position, andthe ADA only requires Wal-Mart to allow Huber to compete for the job, but does not require Wal-Mart to turn away a superior applicant.

"Here, Wal-Mart did not violate its duty, under the ADA, to provide a reasonable accommodation to Huber," Riley wrote in the 8 th  Circuit ruling . " Wal-Mart reasonably accommodated Huber's disability by placing Huber in a maintenance associate position. The maintenance position may not have been a perfect substitute job, or the employee's most preferred alternative job, but an employer is not required to provide a disabled employee with an accommodation that is ideal from the employee's perspective, only an accommodation that is reasonable."

Riley concluded: "In assigning the vacant router position to the most qualified applicant, Wal-Mart did not discriminate against Huber. On the contrary, Huber was treated exactly as all other candidates were treated for the Wal-Mart job opening, no worse and no better."

The 8 th  Circuit ruling is  here .