BNSF Ordered to Pay $95K For “Stopping” Hiring Process After Applicant Disclosed a Back Injury

BNSF Railway Company’s decision to “stop the hiring process” after a job applicant disclosed his prior back injury has proven costly to the company.

In an announcement today, the EEOC said that a federal district court in Washington state has ordered the Texas-based company to pay $95,000 to Russell Holt, the victim of its unlawful behavior under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The judgment follows an earlier win by EEOC when the court found the railroad giant liable for disability discrimination without the need for a trial.

BNSF violated the ADA “on its face” when it simply stopped its hiring process after Holt disclosed his prior back injury. According to EEOC’s lawsuit, Holt, an experienced patrol deputy and criminal investigator, received a conditional job offer for a senior patrol officer position with BNSF Railway in Seattle in 2011. As part of a post-offer medical process, he disclosed a back injury sustained in 2007 and a related MRI test, and at BNSF’s request he had a physical examination, which showed no abnormalities or restrictions.

After receiving this information, BNSF’s medical officer in Texas required Holt to provide a current MRI at his expense, an out-of-pocket cost of approximately $2,000, since his doctor would not approve an insurance-reimbursable test because Holt was not experiencing any pain. Holt asked BNSF to waive the MRI requirement. The company refused, and when he failed to provide the MRI, BNSF treated Holt as having declined the job, although he had not, EEOC said.

“I just wanted a stable job at a good company, but BNSF slammed the door on me before I could show them what I could do,” said Holt.

The court’s judgment includes $62,500 in compensatory damages for Holt’s emotional distress along with just under $33,000 in back pay and interest.

EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney John Stanley noted, “This outcome should tell employers that hiring decisions must be based on facts–whether an applicant has the ability to do the job– and not fears concerning disability, said EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney John Stanley.

Read the EEOC’s announcement here.

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