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Denied a Job for Past Injuries? Can You Sue?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

You should strive to be in your best shape when applying for a new job, but potential employers can't just write you off for past injuries.

Case in point: A patrol officer applicant named Russell Holt sued BNSF Railway Co. after the Texas-based company yanked his job offer when Holt disclosed a prior back injury. The EEOC has now filed a lawsuit on Holt's behalf, claiming that BNSF discriminated against him on the basis of a disability.

Can you sue when you've been denied a job based on past injuries?

Discrimination Barred by ADA

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) prevents private employers from discriminating against applicants or potential hires on the basis of a disability. While the ADA doesn't cover all conditions, "disability" generally covers any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.

In Holt's case, during a post-offer medical exam, he disclosed to BNSF that he had sustained a back injury in 2007; he also asserted the injury did not affect his more than a decade in law enforcement or his ability to perform physically demanding activities. However, as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reported in a press release, BNSF demanded Holt undergo expensive and medically unnecessary testing, and eventually withdrew its job offer because it regarded Holt as having a disability.

This sort of discrimination on the basis of a perceived disability, even if applicants like Holt don't have a qualifying disability, is barred by the ADA. If you feel like your job application was denied on the basis of a real or perceived disability or injury in the past, you may have a similar claim for damages.

Qualified for Work

You may be able to sue a potential employer for turning you down over a perceived disability, but employers do have some ability to gauge your health or physical abilities as conditions for a position. As you may know, bona fide occupational qualifications can be used by employers as a defense to claims of discrimination, essentially claiming that the job requires certain physical attributes that the candidate doesn't possess.

So if your potential new job requires you to lift at least 50 pounds, then you may be legitimately turned down if a prior injury prevents you from doing so.

Finding it hard to see the difference between discrimination and legal employment practices? Contact a personal injury attorney to see if your past injury situation is one that merits a lawsuit.

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