Robert Barnett (respondent), a cargo handler for U.S. Airways {petitioner), injured his back and…

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Robert Barnett (respondent), a cargo handler for U.S. Airways {petitioner), injured his back and became isled. He transferred to a less physically demand mg Job m the mailroom. When his new job later came open to “employee bidding” under the U.S. Airways' seniority system and other employee’s senior to him planned to bid on his job, he requested “accommodation.” He wanted to keep his job without allowing senior employees to get it from him by bidding on it. When U.S. Airways refused this accommodation, Barnett sued under the ADA. The district court ruled for U.S. Airways, but the court

of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari. BREYER,].: The question in the present case focuses on the relationship between seniority systems and the plaintiff's need to show that an “accommodation” seems reasonable. … We must assume that the plaintiff, an employee, is an “individual with a disability.” He has requested assignment to a mailroom position as a “reasonable accommodation.” We also assume that normally such a request would be reasonable within the meaning of the statute, were it not for one circumstance, namely, that the assignment would violate the rules of a seniority system. Does that circumstance mean that the proposed accommodation is not a “reasonable” one? In our view, the answer to this question ordinarily is “yes.” The statute does not require proof on a case-by-case basis that a seniority system should prevail. That is because it would not be reasonable in the run of cases that the assignment in question trump the rules of a seniority system. To the contrary, it will ordinarily be unreasonable for the assignment to prevail. For one thing, the typical seniority system provides important employee benefits by creating, and fulfilling, employee expectations of fair, uniform treatment. These benefits include “job security and an opportunity for steady and predictable advancement based on objective standards.” They include “an element of due process,” limiting “unfairness in personal decisions.” And they consequently encourage employees to invest in the employing company, accepting “less than their value to the firm early in their careers” in return for greater benefits in later years. Most important for present purposes, to require the typical employer to show more than the existence of a seniority system might well undermine the employees' expectations of consistent, uniform treatment expectations upon which the seniority system's benefits depend. That is because such a rule would substitute a complex case-specific “accommodation” decision made by management for the more uniform, impersonal operation of seniority rules. Such management decision making, with its inevitable discretionary elements, would involve a matter of the greatest importance to employees, namely, layoffs; it would take place outside, as well as inside, the confines of a court case; and it might well take place often. We can find nothing in the statute that suggests C? ingress intended to undermine seniority sys­ terms m this way. And we consequently conclude that the. employer's showing of violation of the rules of a simony system is by itself ordinarily sufficient. the plaintiff (here the employee) nonetheless remands free to show that special circumstances warrant a fit ding that, despite the presence of a seniority system (which the ADA may not trump in the run of cases), the quested “accommodation” is “reasonable” on the par­ticular facts. That is because special circumstances might alter the important expectations described above. The plaintiff might show, for example, that the employer, having retained the right to change the seniority system unilaterally, exercises that right frequently, reducing employee expectations that the system will be followed-to the point where one more departure, needed to accommodate an individual with a disability, will not likely make a difference. The plaintiff might show that the system already contains exceptions such that, in the circumstances, one further exception is unlikely to matter. We do not mean these examples to exhaust the kinds of showings that a plaintiff might make. But we do mean to say that the plaintiff must bear the burden of showing special circumstances that make an exception from the seniority system reasonable in the case. And to do so, the plaintiff must explain why, in the case, an exception to the employer's seniority policy can constitute a “reasonable accommodation” even though in the ordinary case it cannot. In its question presented, U.S. Airways asked us whether the ADA requires an employer to assign a disabled employee to a position even though another employee is entitled to that position under the employer's “established seniority system.” We answer that ordinarily the ADA does not require that assignment. Hence a showing that the assignment would violate the rules; f a seniority system warrants summary judgment? t for the employer-unless there is more. The plamnff must present evidence of that “more,” namely, spectral circumstances surrounding the case that demonstrate the assignment is nonetheless reasonable. We vacate the Court of Appeals' judgment and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

1. What does the employee request the employer to do?

2. Why does the employer deny the accommodation request?

3. Does the Supreme Court decide that a seniority system “trumps” an accommodation request? Explain.

 

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