Earlier this month, United Airlines agreed to pay just over $1 million to settle a federal disability lawsuit that has been garnering public attention since 2009. According to the settlement announcement from officials at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), United will have to pay $1,000,040 to a small group of former employees and make some specific changes to its national operations to try to preclude such future disability discrimination.
Background on the Case: How the Disability Discrimination Occurred
Just over five years ago, the EEOC filed a discrimination lawsuit against United Airlines, alleging that the company’s “competitive transfer” policy violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Under the provisions of the ADA, employers are required to provide “reasonable accommodations” to applicants or employees who are disabled unless doing so would result in undue hardship for the employer.
As the EEOC alleged, however, “by requiring workers with disabilities to compete for vacant positions for which they were qualified and which they needed in order to continue working, [United Airline’s] practice frequently prevented employees with disabilities from continuing employment with United.”
Settlement Comes after Multiple Appeals, Legal Saga
Initially, the EEOC lawsuit against United was filed in a San Francisco federal court. However, over the course of this case:
- United successfully had the case transferred to an Illinois court, where precedent had established that a policy similar to United’s competitive transfer policy had not violated the ADA.
- The Illinois court dismissed the EEOC lawsuit in February 2011.
- The EEOC appealed, and the Seventh Circuit Court reversed the earlier dismissal, finding in favor of the EEOC.
- The Supreme Court denied United’s request for a case review.
A Closer Look at the Terms of the Settlement: What United Has Been Ordered to Do
The settlement in this case, which was officially entered by Judge Harry Leinenweber on June 11, 2015, specifically requires United to:
- Provide a report to the EEOC regarding the workers who were impacted by the reassignment policy/process
- Compensate these workers
- Change its ADA reassignment policy
- Train its HR employees and supervisors regarding the new policy changes.
Commenting on this settlement, EEOC San Francisco Acting District Director Michael Connolly noted:
We commend United for agreeing to make these important companywide changes that will enable employees with disabilities to stay employed at jobs they are qualified to do, as was intended under the ADA’s protections.
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