A federal appeals court has sided with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that "reasonable accommodation" as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may require employers to provide employees with disabilities "reassignment to a vacant position" when the employee cannot be accommodated in his or her current position.

In a lawsuit against United Airlines, the EEOC charged that the giant air carrier violated the ADA by refusing to place workers with disabilities in vacant positions for which they were qualified and which they needed in order to keep working. Instead, United required these employees to compete for jobs on the company website. The practice frequently prevented employees with disabilities from continuing their careers with United.

The lower court initially dismissed the EEOC's case against United, saying a competitive transfer policy did not violate the ADA, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit disagreed and reinstated the case. The ADA does indeed mandate that an employer offer reassignment to a vacant position, said the appeals court, provided that such accommodation would be ordinarily reasonable and would not present an undue hardship to the employer. Congress clearly intended to ensure that employees with disabilities remain productive workers even when they can no longer do their current jobs due to disability.

The EEOC filed suit after investigating a number of discrimination charges from employees. The decision aligns the Seventh Circuit with the D.C. and Tenth Circuits in implementing Congress' intent on this issue. The Seventh Circuit covers Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.