Last week the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) settled its first lawsuit involving a discrimination claim based on an applicant’s genetic history. The lawsuit alleged that Fabricut, a fabric distributor, violated the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) when it requested a family medical history in its post-offer medical examination to a temporary employee and then violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by denying a regular position to the temporary employee because it regarded her as having carpal tunnel syndrome.

After offering the plaintiff a permanent position, the company subjected her to pre-employment drug testing and a physical exam. The exam included a questionnaire that asked her to disclose the existence of medical conditions – including heart disease, hypertension, cancer, tuberculosis, diabetes, arthritis, and mental disorders – that ran in her family. The applicant was also subjected to further medical evaluations to determine whether she suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome.

In addition to the ADA claim based on the company’s conclusion that she suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome – despite her own physician’s finding to the contrary – the plaintiff alleged that the medical questionnaire violated her rights under GINA. Among other provisions, Title II of GINA prohibits the use of genetic information in making employment decisions, restricts acquisition of genetic information by employers and other entities covered by Title II, strictly limits the disclosure of genetic information, and prohibits retaliation against employees who complain about genetic discrimination. GINA was enacted in 2008, and took effect in 2009. The agency issued final regulations on Title II a year later. 

According to EEOC, the lawsuit and settlement were both filed on May 7, 2013. The company has agreed to pay the plaintiff $50,000, as well as take remedial actions. In a press release, EEOC Regional Attorney Barbara Seely said: “We believe that when Fabricut fully understood and appreciated what happened, it took action to remedy the situation, as this quick settlement demonstrates,” adding, “Although GINA has been law since 2009, many employers still do not understand that requesting family medical history, even through a contract medical examiner, violates this law.”