Company Rescinds Offer Due to Applicant's Prior Back Injury, Federal Agency Charges
SEATTLE - Texas-based BNSF Railway Co. violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by withdrawing a job offer to a qualified applicant because of a prior back injury, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
According to the EEOC's suit, Russell Holt received a conditional job offer for a Senior Patrol Officer position with BNSF Railway in Seattle in September 2011. As part of the post-offer medical exam, he disclosed a back injury sustained in 2007. An investigator in his mid-thirties with nearly 11 years in law enforcement and a SWAT team member (a position he had to physically qualify for), Holt explained to BNSF that he never missed any work due to the injury. In October 2011, BNSF's own contract doctor deemed Holt fit for the position without reservation. In early November, Holt and his wife both gave notice to their respective employers and got ready to move from Arkansas to Washington for his new job.
However, the EEOC the said, starting Nov. 11, BNSF required additional medical information and tests from Holt, including an expensive MRI. Since his own doctor determined there was no medical necessity for such a test, Holt's insurance would not cover the cost, and he was left with the prospect of paying for the MRI out of pocket with no guarantee from BNSF that he would be allowed to start in the senior patrol officer position they had offered him. In mid-December, BNS withdrew the job offer.
Refusing to hire a person because the employer regards him as having a physical or mental impairment, or because he has a record of disability, violates the ADA. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington (Case No. 2:14-CV-01488) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks monetary damages on behalf of this claimant, and injunctive relief which typically includes training on anti-discrimination laws, posting of notices at the worksite, and compliance reporting.
EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo noted, "Mr. Holt was a seasoned law enforcement officer who had never missed work because of a four-year old back injury. It is unfortunate that BNSF chose to ignore Mr. Holt's experience and qualifications in his chosen profession, and instead forced him to prove that he would not be injured in the future."
Michael Baldonado, director of the EEOC's San Francisco District Office, which includes Washington, said, "Mr. Holt and his family had already committed to move halfway across the country for this job when BNSF decided to second-guess their own doctor's clearance. Significant stress and harm to Mr. Holt and his family could have been avoided if the employer had followed the ADA's requirement to look at each worker as an individual to be evaluated on his or her particular circumstances and abilities."
According to publicly available information and its website, www.bnsf.com, BNSF Railway Co. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which provides freight transportation over a network of 32,500 route miles of track across two-thirds of the western United States and two provinces of Canada. Headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, BNSF had approximately 39,000 employees and $19.5 billion in sales in 2011.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.