Underqualified Applicant’s ADA Claim Fails

By Roger S. Achille Dec 28, 2017
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A rejected applicant who did not meet all of the minimum qualifications of the position for which he applied failed to establish a prima-facie case of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas held.

In 2005, the sciatic nerve on one side of the plaintiff's hip was crushed during hip replacement surgery. As a result, he walked with a pronounced limp and used a cane for assistance, which ultimately caused him to go on long-term disability. In 2007, he underwent surgery to correct his hip, and he was physically able to return to work in 2008.

In 2011, the plaintiff applied for a mechanical design engineer position with L-3 Communications at its Greenville, Texas, facility. In October 2011, Chad Grant, a department head at L-3 Communications, met the plaintiff at a recruiter's office and led him to an office located approximately 100 yards away in a separate building to conduct the interview. During the walk to the office, Grant asked the plaintiff questions regarding his ability to walk. The plaintiff advised Grant that he had a hip replacement surgery, a mistake was made, and his sciatic nerve was crushed. The interview began once they reached the office. Approximately three weeks later, L-3 Communications informed the plaintiff that it declined to offer him the position.

The plaintiff claimed that L-3 Communications discriminated against him in violation of the ADA when it did not hire him. He conceded in his deposition that Grant's questions during his interview about his ability to walk were "likely out of curiosity" rather than direct evidence of discrimination. Therefore, the plaintiff needed to establish a prima-facie case by showing that:

  • He had a disability or was regarded as disabled.
  • He was qualified for the job.
  • He was subject to an adverse employment decision because his disability.

L-3 Communications argued, among other things, that because the plaintiff did not meet the minimum qualifications for the position, he was not "otherwise qualified" for the mechanical design engineer position.

To determine whether a plaintiff is qualified for a position within the meaning of the ADA, a court must determine whether an individual with a disability can show that "he could perform the essential functions of the job despite his disability" or that "a reasonable accommodation of his disability would have enabled him to perform the essential functions of the job."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Accommodating Employees' Disabilities]

L-3 Communications maintained that the plaintiff did not meet the requisite minimum qualifications set forth in the job posting because he had no experience with "NC programming" or knowledge of "HDL Aircraft installation procedures."

The court noted that knowledge of HDL Aircraft installation procedures was not a necessary minimum qualification but only an "additional advantage" for applicants, as stated in L-3 Communications' job posting.

On the other hand, the job posting stated that a candidate for the position "must" have NC programming knowledge. The record established that the plaintiff did not meet this minimum requirement, as he conceded in his deposition that he had no experience with NC programming. Being aware of no authority that requires a prospective employer to accept a person for a position who does not meet all minimum qualifications, the district court concluded that the plaintiff failed to establish a prima-facie case of discrimination for his disability.

Mir v. L-3 Communications Integrated Systems, L.P., N.D. Tex., No. 3:15-CV-2766-L (Nov. 8, 2017).

Professional Pointer: Job descriptions and job postings should be given careful attention and routinely updated to ensure accuracy, as they serve as primary documents in the ADA interactive process.

Roger S. Achille is an attorney and professor at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I.

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