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Seniority takes precedence over disabled needs in court decision

Seniority takes precedence over disabled needs in court decision

From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The particular needs of disabled workers are not normally entitled to preference over more senior employees, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court said the Americans with Disabilities Act does not require a company to grant a special assignment to a disabled worker over more senior employees.

The decision came in the case of U.S. Airways employee Robert Barnett, who suffered a back injury as a cargo-handler and requested a less physically demanding position in the mailroom. Two more senior employees also wanted that position.

"Special circumstances" in particular cases of disability may override seniority, but not "in the normal run of cases," the majority said.

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Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the opinion. He was joined by Justices William Rehnquist, John Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy in an unusual alignment of more liberal and conservative justices. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas filed one dissent, and Justices David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg filed another.

Monday's ruling overturns a 9th Circuit Court decision, and has been sent back to that court for reconsideration in light of the new ruling.

The ruling also was the second setback for disability advocates during the current Supreme Court term. Earlier, the justices ruled a worker with carpal tunnel syndrome who is still able to perform some functions may not be declared disabled under the A.D.A.



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