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Employer-Mandated MRIs Won’t Be Examined as Justices Reject Case

Nov. 12, 2019, 2:34 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear arguments in the case of whether BNSF Railway Co. violated a federal disability law when it rescinded an applicants’ job offer after he refused to pay for a required MRI.

The justices Nov. 12 let stand a Ninth Circuit ruling in favor of the applicant that divided federal agencies and led business groups to warn that it went beyond the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued BNSF Railway on behalf of Russell Holt, who refused to pay for a company-required MRI to be medically cleared for the position of senior patrol officer. The MRI would have cost Holt as much as $2,500, but the company wanted to determine if a prior spinal injury hindered his ability to safely perform his job.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit sided with the EEOC and the worker, finding that the company violated the ADA when it rescinded Holt’s job offer. Employers can’t shift the costs of post-offer, disability-related medical testing onto workers regardless of the costs or the worker’s ability to pay, the court said.

BNSF asked the high court in March to reconsider the Ninth Circuit’s ruling. Several business and trade groups told the Supreme Court that the Ninth Circuit greatly overreached in expanding what should be covered under the ADA.

The case also divided the agencies that enforce federal civil rights laws. The Justice Department, which represents the EEOC in matters before the Supreme Court, told the justices in August that the case should be remanded and vacated. It said the Ninth Circuit was wrong to conclude that BNSF violated the ADA and said Holt was denied the position because he didn’t complete a medical screening process, not because of a disability.

The company said it pays for initial screenings, but applicants are responsible for follow-up testing costs. BNSF is represented by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher attorney Andrew Tulumello.

Brian H. Fletcher and Pamela Karlan with Stanford University Law School are representing Holt. They argued that the Ninth Circuit decision was rightly decided. Most states prohibit employers from requiring job applicants to pay for employer-mandated medical tests, they said, adding that “BNSF’s practice appears to be an outlier.”

The case is BNSF Ry. Co. v. EEOC, U.S., No 16-35457, certiorari denied 11/12/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Erin Mulvaney in Washington at emulvaney@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bloomberglaw.com