Didn’t get the job because of past injuries? Can you sue?

photo credit: kenteegardin

photo credit: kenteegardin

We all try to look our best when applying for a new job but potential employers cannot reject your application just because you’ve had past injuries.

Let’s take a recent example that appeared in the news. Russell Holt received a job offer for a senior patrol officer with BNSF Railway in 2011. During the medical examination, Holt disclosed a back injury that he had sustained in 2007. He told the company that he had never missed work because of it, having worked in law enforcement for more than 10 years. Upon learning of his condition, BNS withdrew the job offer, in addition to already having made him pay for the medical testing. Holt later filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging that BNSF violated the American with Disabilities Act.

So the question remains: can you sue an employer if you’re denied a job due to past injuries?

American with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA act prevents private employers from discriminating against applicants or potential hires solely on the basis of disability. While the act does not cover all medical conditions, “disability” usually means any physical or mental impairment that significantly hampers important life activities.

In Holt’s case, the “disability” he had did not, as he said, prevent him from doing his job in his 10 year-long career as a law enforcement officer. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) put out a press release stating that BNSF made Holt pay for expensive medical testing while eventually withdrawing their job offer because they perceived his condition as a disability.

This type of discrimination of a perceived disability, when the applicants do not have a qualifying disability is prohibited by the ADA. If you feel that you have been denied a job in the past because of a perceived disability or injury, you may have a claim for damages.

Being qualified for work

Even though you may be able to file a claim against a potential employer for denying your application for a perceived disability, employers still have some power to gauge your health or physical abilities as qualifications for a job. An employer can use bona fide occupational qualifications as a defense against claims of discrimination. Essentially, what this means is that a certain job can require certain physical attributes that the applicant may not possess.

So if you’re applying for a new job where you must be able to lift at least 50 pounds and you have an injury that prevents you from doing so, the employer is justified in denying your application.

Still confused about what is a perceived disability vs a real disability? Contact a personal injury attorney to see if you have a claim for filing a lawsuit.