A federal court in Kentucky has determined that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is not entitled to information about the medical examinations of Nestlé Prepared Foods employees in relation to a claim by one former employee that he was fired due to “genetic information” discrimination. EEOC v. Nestlé Prepared Foods, No. 5:11-mc-359-JMH-REW (U.S. Dist. Ct., E.D. Ky., decided May 23, 2012). So ruling, the court rejected in part a magistrate judge’s recommended disposition and denied EEOC’s motion for enforcement of a subpoena.
According to the court, the information sought was irrelevant because there was no evidence that any other employee had alleged violations of the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA), 42 U.S.C. § 20000ff-1. While acknowledging that EEOC ordinarily “has broad access to evidence that is relevant to a charge being investigated,” the court was “not persuaded that it has free reign to conduct a broad, company-wide investigation based upon a single allegation of an isolated act of discrimination.” In this case, the former employee had apparently been terminated shortly after undergoing an employer-requested fitness-for-duty evaluation during which he “provided information concerning his family history of certain medical conditions.”
Based on his allegation of “genetic information” discrimination, EEOC directed Nestlé to provide documents regarding each physician to whom the company had referred employees and detailed employment information about each employee who had submitted to medical examinations, such as reasons for not hiring or for terminating. Responding to questions about the materials’ relevance, counsel evidently responded that EEOC did not know whether systemic discrimination had occurred at Nestlé. “At this point we don’t know. We won’t know that until we have the information and then we can determine whether or not that’s the case.”
In the court’s view, not “every charge of discrimination justifies an investigation of the employer’s facility-wide employment practices. To conclude otherwise would eviscerate the relevance requirement and condone fishing expeditions, against which the Sixth Circuit has warned. Here, the only alleged GINA violation arose from [the employee’s] EEOC charge in which he checked the box for ‘genetic information.’” While the court overturned the magistrate’s ruling on relevance, it left undisturbed a finding that Nestlé had notice of its obligations under GINA.