Monday, December 9, 2019

The ADA never requires an employer to create a position as a reasonable accommodation

Randona Johnson took a medical leave from his position as a process coach at a Ford assembly plant to deal with back pain, hypertension, and depression. After five months of leave, Ford moved Johnson to inactive status, with no active position at the plant. Two months later, Johnson reapplied for his old job and requested certain accommodations for his various disabilities. According to Ford, however, the assembly plant had no openings at that time, as was the case each time over the next several months Johnson reapplied. Ultimately, 15 months after Johnson first took medical leave, and eight months after he first re-applied, a position opened and Ford rehired him with his requested accommodations.

Johnson sued anyway, claiming in failing to rehire him earlier Ford unlawfully denied him a reasonable accommodation.

The 6th Circuit disagreed.

Johnson argues that Ford failed to accommodate his disabilities because it refused to rehire him (at least at first). To prevail on that argument, he must show a factual dispute about whether the assembly plant had an open position at the time. After all, employers don’t have to create new positions to accommodate those with disabilities. They just have to consider people fairly for open positions.  
Ford offers direct evidence that the assembly plant had no openings when Johnson reapplied for his job. In a sworn statement, the company explained that its finance department determines how many employees each facility can hire for a given role. According to Ford, facilities cannot exceed these limits. The company also stated that the assembly plant had no openings from July 2015 (when Johnson first reapplied for his job) to April 2016 (when he was rehired). Multiple supervisors at the plant corroborated this account. Indeed, even Johnson acknowledged that the plant could not exceed these “manpower maximum[s].” In short, Ford has provided ample evidence that it had no openings.… 
In the end, Johnson has provided no evidence that Ford had an open position. So the district court correctly granted summary judgment on this ground. 

When accommodating a disabled employer, the ADA never requires an employer to create a position or bump another employee to create a vacancy. An employer is only obligated to reassign or rehire the employee to vacant position for which the employee is qualified. (Note that the federal courts remain split over whether an employer must provide a preference to a disabled employee for a vacant position and pass over a more qualified individual.)

In this case, Ford clearly met its obligations. Case closed.

* Photo by Free To Use Sounds on Unsplash