Client Alert

Supreme Court Rules that Seniority-Based Decisions Ordinarily Will Pass Muster Under the ADA

May 01, 2002

By Paul Hastings Professional

The Supreme Court ruled this week that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employer “ordinarily” may refuse to make exceptions to its unilaterally imposed seniority system when asked to do so as a reasonable accommodation for a disabled employee. U.S. Airways, Inc. v. Barnett, No. 00-1250. Employees may overcome this “rebuttable presumption” in favor of seniority systems only by showing that “special circumstances” exist that would warrant an exception, for example by showing that the employer has made routine exceptions in the past, undermining the seniority-linked expectations of other employees. Absent proof of special circumstances justifying a departure from the seniority rules, the Court held, courts should grant summary judgment to employers who show that the requested accommodation would come at the expense of the seniority system.

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