US Supreme Court to Rule In Job Dispute

December 6, 2001 ( - US Supreme Court justices will use a lawsuit filed by a US Airways employee to decide whether the airline can exempt a disabled worker from the company's seniority-based job bidding system.

Justices agreed to decide the dispute between US Airways and Robert Barnett over whether the air carrier should have considered Barnett’s disability when deciding whether Barnett should be allowed to keep his job as a mailroom clerk.

Barnett, who injured his back while working as a US Airways cargo handler, used his seniority to get the less demanding mail room post after his doctor told him to avoid heavy lifting and excessive bending, twisting, turning, pushing, and pulling.

After learning he might be bumped out of the mail room job by employees with greater seniority, Barnett claimed he asked US Airways to stay in the mail room, give him special equipment with which to do his old cargo job, or give him a cargo job involving office work. He said the company refused.

US Airways’ attorney, Walter Dellinger argued that the seniority system shouldn’t be disturbed because it was the fairest way to allow employees to obtain more desirable jobs and shifts.

He argued that any proposed accommodation given Barnett under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to help him better cope with his injury shouldn’t be considered “reasonable” under ADA.

Such an accommodation would require an employer to violate a neutral employment policy – the seniority-based job bidding system – so it isn’t a reasonable, Dellinger said.

However Barnett lawyer Claudia Center argued that US Airways interpretation of the ADA was overly broad and that the law’s use of the term “reasonable accommodation” meant only the steps to enable a disabled worker to perform a particular job.

The case is US Airways Inc. v. Barnett, U.S., No. 00-1250.
– Fred Schneyer