Earlier this week, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed, and immediately settled, its first ever lawsuit alleging genetic discrimination under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). GINA, a federal statute that was enacted in 2008 and became effective in 2009, prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or applicants because of their genetic information (including family medical history) and restricts employers from requesting such information.
The lawsuit concerns Rhonda Jones, a temporary employee of fabric distributor Fabricut, Inc. who applied for a permanent position when her temporary assignment neared an end. According to the EEOC, Fabricut offered Jones the permanent position, then sent her to a third party contractor for a pre-employment drug test and physical. In connection with the physical, Jones was required to answer questions about her family’s history of heart disease, hypertension, cancer, tuberculosis, diabetes, arthritis, and “mental disorders.” Jones was also subjected to medical testing, including evaluation of whether she suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Fabricut rescinded its job offer when the medical examiner indicated that Jones had CTS.
In its lawsuit, the EEOC alleged that Fabricut had violated GINA (when the medical examiner requested Jones’s family medical history) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (when Fabricut rescinded its job offer because it believed Jones had CTS). As part of the settlement, which was filed simultaneously with the lawsuit, Fabricut agreed to pay $50,000, to post an anti-discrimination notice to employees, to disseminate anti-discrimination policies to employees, and to provide anti-discrimination training to employees with hiring responsibilities. The case is Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Fabricut Inc. and was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma.
As the EEOC’s first ever lawsuit alleging a violation of GINA, this case should remind employers of the statute’s prohibitions. Employers should also remember that there is no substitute for making sure that all employees – including those with hiring responsibilities – are aware of the requirements of all applicable anti-discrimination laws.