California Employment Law: Is employer’s offer to apply for another position considered a reasonable accommodation?

It is not uncommon for an employer to terminate an employee because of his or her disability in violation of FEHA and other anti-discrimination laws, and attempt to mask disability discrimination and failure to provide reasonable accommodations by telling an employee while terminating him that he can apply for other jobs in the company that might suit him. This move seems to be particularly obvious when the employer tells the employee that he should apply for any job externally, like any other outside applicant, not having any priority in hiring or consideration for any position.

The California courts are unimpressed with this move to go around the law protecting disabled workers. The Ninth Circuit specifically held in Barnett v. U.S. Air. Inc. (9th Cir. 2000) 228 F.3d 1105 that an offer to bid on other jobs, “a right the employee already had,” did not represent reasonable accommodations as required by law. Reassignment involves more than a mere opportunity for disabled employees to compete. Quoting EEOC guidelines, the court concluded that reassignment within the meaning of reasonable accommodations means that the employee gets the vacant position if he/she is qualified for it. Otherwise, reassignment would be of little value and would not be implemented as Congresses intended it when it enacted disability anti-discrimination laws.