In the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s first suit alleging discrimination in violation of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), a fabric distribution company agreed to pay $50,000 and stop the use of allegedly illegal inquiries into family medical history.
Rhonda Jones was a temporary employee at Fabricut in Oklahoma. After she was offered a permanent position as a memo clerk, Jones was sent to the company’s medical examiner for a drug test and physical. She was also given a questionnaire that asked about her family history for a number of disorders like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and arthritis, as well as “mental disorders.” The examiner expressed concern that Jones might suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome and instructed her to be evaluated by her personal physician. After testing her, Jones’ doctor concluded that she did not have carpal tunnel syndrome. She notified Fabricut but the company rescinded its offer, relying upon the diagnosis from the medical examiner.
Jones then filed a charge with the agency, alleging violations of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). During the course of the EEOC’s investigation, the agency discovered the questionnaire completed by Jones. Finding that the questionnaire “reflected an unlawful inquiry for genetic information” on its face, the EEOC added one count of GINA discrimination to the suit filed in Oklahoma federal court.
The parties filed a proposed consent decree the same day. Fabricut did not admit to a violation of the ADA, GINA or any other law. But the company agreed to pay Jones $50,000 and initiate various ADA and GINA antidiscrimination measures, including management and human resources training, as well as the dissemination of company policies on GINA and the ADA to employees.
In addition, Fabricut promised to stop the practice of inquiring into the genetic information of applicants and their family members and will only refer applicants to post-offer health assessments in compliance with the law – i.e., to evaluate the applicant’s present ability to perform the essential functions of the job with or without a potential reasonable accommodation and to determine whether the individual may pose a direct threat to his or her own safety or that of others.
To read the complaint in EEOC v. Fabricut, click here.
To read the proposed consent decree, click here.
Why it matters: The EEOC’s first suit alleging a violation of GINA puts employers on notice that the agency is ready to take action under the statute. “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,” EEOC regional attorney Barbara Seely said in a statement about the case. The agency also noted that fighting genetic discrimination is one of six priorities identified in the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan. With enforcement action on the agency’s radar, employers should review their policies to ensure compliance with GINA, particularly the prohibition on requesting family medical history.