No Preference for Disabled Employees in a RIF

RIF reduction in force disability Alabama Employment Law
Disabled employees are not entitled to preferential treatment when an employer conducts a RIF.

Disabled employees who are part of an employer’s reduction in force (“RIF”) are not entitled to preferential treatment.  See Mance v. Board of Trustees of Univ. of W. Ala., No. 7:16-cv-01056-JEO (N.D. Ala. Mar. 23, 2018).  Angelia Mance was employed by the University of West Alabama (“UWA”) as the managing partner of the Demopolis Higher Education Center (“DHEC”).  Even though UWA was her employer, the funding for the DHEC’s programs came from the City of Demopolis.  On October 22, 2014, the City cut-off funding for the DHEC, and UWA decided to implement a reduction-in-force — terminating all five members of the DHEC staff, including Mance.

Ms. Mance is confined to a wheelchair and indisputably disabled.  On December 3, 2014, she e-mailed the President of UWA and asked for a “reasonable accommodation” — re-assignment and/or placement in a new position.  UWA, however, was in the middle of a hiring freeze.  Even so, Mance claimed that she previously held positions as an Associate Director and a Special Projects Coordinator.  UWA provided evidence that there were no such available positions.

Ms. Mance’s case hinged upon her insistence that UWA was required to “accommodate” her disability by making her an Associate Director or Special Projects Coordinator.  Chief Magistrate Judge John Ott was not persuaded.  Judge Ott noted that employers are not required to “afford ‘preferential treatment’ to the disabled when it comes to job reassignments or filling vacancies.”  He also found that “Mance’s discrimination claim is a textbook example of a plaintiff asserting that her disability affords her a right of preferential treatment over non-disabled employees when the employer imposes a lawful reduction-in-force.”  He concluded that “federal anti-discrimination law does not require an employer to create a new position, either out of whole cloth or by shuffling around other employees or their duties, as a reasonable accommodation for a disabled worker who is otherwise lawfully subject to termination.”

Obviously, employers should not include employees in a RIF because of a protected characteristic — such as disability, race, age or gender.  At the same time, Mance helps to establish that employers are not required to give preferential treatment to the disabled in the decision-making process.