Transportation Giant Ordered to Pay $95,000 to Applicant Rejected Due to Prior Back Injury
SEATTLE - A Washington federal court ordered Texas-based BNSF Railway Co. to pay $95,000 to a qualified applicant denied hire because of an old back injury and also awarded permanent injunctive relief, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced today. 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.
According to the court's prior order, BNSF violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) "on its face" when it simply stopped its hiring process after Russell 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.
EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington (Case No. C14-1488 MJP) after first investigating the matter and then attempting to reach a pre-litigation resolution through its conciliation process. 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.
Noting that "BNSF has failed to demonstrate a likelihood that its discriminatory conduct will not continue in the future," the court also imposed a permanent injunction requiring the railway company to bear the cost of any additional medical information it seeks from an applicant and to complete the medical examination process with existing information if no further information is sought. By prior order, the judgment is stayed pending potential appeals.
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."
San Francisco District Director William Tamayo said, "ADA compliance is a key priority for this agency. EEOC will continue to investigate employers who make unfounded decisions like this one."
According to publicly available information and its website, www.bnsf.com, BNSF Railway Co. is a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc., and provides freight transportation over a network of 32,500 route miles in 28 states. Headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, BNSF had approximately 48,000 employees and $16.5 billion in total revenues through third quarter 2015.
EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.