United Airlines Sued for Disability Discrimination

June 5, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit against Chicago-based global air carrier United Airlines for discriminating against a class of employees with disabilities by failing to provide job transfers to vacant positions, despite their qualifications, as a reasonable accommodation.

The EEOC said it filed the suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement (EEOC v. United Airlines, Civil No. 09-2469-PJH). The suit seeks monetary damages on behalf of the affected class of employees, a court order to require the airline to change its policies to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and ensuring the class members are reassigned to work in vacant jobs for which they are qualified.

Lead class member Joe Boswell worked as an airline mechanic for United at the San Francisco airport for over a decade before being diagnosed with a brain tumor, causing him to take leave and seek medical treatment, according to an EEOC press release. When Boswell returned to work at United, he could not be accommodated in his position as a mechanic, so he applied for a number of vacant positions for which he was qualified.

The EEOC alleges United violated the ADA by rejecting him for all the positions he had applied for, even though he was qualified for those jobs. Boswell was eventually placed on extended, involuntary leave by United until he retired late last year.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities which can include reassignment to a vacant position.

According to the press release, the litigation says all of the class members shared similar experiences as Boswell: they became disabled during their employment with United, could not be accommodated in their current position, and were rejected by United for a vacant position for which they qualified. Other claimants were food service workers, airplane maintenance workers, ramp workers, flight attendants, and customer service representatives.

“We anticipate that numerous employees at United locations nationwide may have a claim in this systemic case,” said EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William Tamayo, in the announcement.