Posted on Dec 11, 2007

An Arkansas woman who claims Wal-Mart Stores Inc. discriminated against her after she became disabled has successfully appealed her case to the Supreme Court.

The justices said Friday they would rule on a lawsuit by Pam Huber, who remains a Wal-Mart employee. The case centers on how far employers must go under the Americans with Disabilities Act to accommodate disabled employees.

Specifically, the dispute is over whether Wal-Mart was required to provide Huber with an equivalent position after she could no longer perform her job due to disability, or whether the company simply had to allow her to compete for an equivalent job.

Huber's lawyers argued in court filings that the federal appeals courts have split on the issue and asked the justices to resolve the split.

Huber was an order filler in a Wal-Mart distribution center in Clarksville, Ark., earning $13 per hour, when she was hurt in April 2001 in an on-the-job accident. The company agreed she was disabled and no longer able to perform her current job.

Huber applied for a new job as a router, which paid $12.50, but the position was given to another employee Wal-Mart considered more qualified. Huber was offered a janitorial position that paid $6.20 an hour, her lawyers said in court papers.

Huber sued in June 2004, arguing that under ADA rules, she only had to be qualified for the equivalent position, not the most qualified, and should have been reassigned to the router job.

Wal-Mart said in court papers that the job went to the most-qualified candidate under a "standardized, legitimate, and non-discriminatory" process that is allowed under ADA rules.

A federal court in Arkansas sided with Huber, but the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in St. Louis, reversed and ruled in favor of Wal-Mart.

The ADA "only requires Wal-Mart to allow Huber to compete for the job, but the statute does not require Wal-Mart to turn away a superior applicant," the appeals court said.

A phone call to Wal-Mart seeking comment wasn't immediately returned.

Justice Stephen Breyer, who owns Wal-Mart stock, recused himself from the decision.

The case will be argued before the court next year and decided by July.

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