Monday, January 14, 2008

Supreme Court dismisses Huber v. Wal-Mart from its docket

After more than a decade practicing, it still amazes me how fluid the law actually is. Rarely anything is black or white, and most issues exist in uncertain shades of gray. Such will continue to be the case with Huber v. Wal-Mart. Recall that only a month ago, the Supreme Court decided to hear the issue of whether an employer that has an established policy to fill vacant job positions with the most qualified applicant is nevertheless required to reassign a qualified disabled employee to a vacant position even if that disabled employee is not the most qualified person for the job. According to SCOTUSblog, the Supreme Court has dismissed the case as it has settled.

With no forthcoming guidance from the Supreme Court on this issue, Ohio employers will now have to choose between the 8th Circuit's view in the Huber case (which allowed Wal-Mart to hire to most qualified person and deny the open position to a less qualified disabled employee) and the opposing view of courts such as the 10th Circuit (which require employers to automatically award an open position to a qualified disabled employee if even better qualified applicant are available and despite an policy to hire the best person for the job).

My opinion remains unchanged from when I first reported on this issue. When you don't hire the best person for an open position, it could lead a court to second-guess your judgment and question why a member of a protected class was overlooked in favor of the second/third/fourth/whatever best person. Recognize, however, that this issue is unsettled, and declining to accommodate a disabled employee by transferring that employee to an open position could result in a violation of the ADA if the court agrees with the 10th Circuit's rationale and rejects the 8th Circuit's Huber decision.