The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has settled its first lawsuit alleging genetic discrimination.
Fabricut, Inc., one of the world’s largest distributors of decorative fabrics, has agreed to pay $50,000 to a woman who applied unsuccessfully for a position of memo clerk at the company.
The Tulsa, Oklahoma corporation “allegedly” violated Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 when it asked job applicant Rhonda Jones for her family medical history in its post-offer medical examination. Jones was required to fill out a questionnaire asking about “the existence of heart disease, hypertension, cancer, tuberculosis, diabetes, arthritis and ‘mental disorders’ in her family.”
The EEOC filed the lawsuit and the settlement on May 7 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma. The EEOC called it the first lawsuit ever filed by the EEOC alleging a violation of GINA.
“Fitness for Duty”
This may be the first EEOC lawsuit alleging genetic discrimination but it follows a controversy last year when the EEOC sought to enforce an administrative subpoena seeking genetic information collected by Nestle Prepared Foods.
The EEOC was investigating a complaint of genetic discrimination by Nestle employee Michael Peel, who was fired a month after he was required to complete a “fitness-for-duty” medical examination that included the collection of his family medical history.
Nestle and the National Chamber of Commerce objected to the subpoena.
A federal judge in Kentucky refused to enforce the subpoena after concluding he was “ not persuaded that [the EEOC] has free reign to conduct a broad, company-wide investigation based upon a single allegation of an isolated act of discrimination.”
Fabricut also was charged with violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because it deemed Jones unsuitable after concluding that she had carpal tunnel syndrome even though Jones’ physician said she did not have carpal tunnel syndrome. The ADA prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities and individuals who are incorrectly regarded as having disabilities.
After working a temporary position as a memo clerk for 90 days, Jones applied for a permanent job. Fabricut made Jones an offer of permanent employment on Aug. 9, 2011, and sent her to its contract medical examiner, Knox Laboratory, for a pre-employment drug test and physical. Jones was required to fill out a questionnaire seeking disclosure of medical disorders in her family’s medical history.
The examiner concluded that further evaluation was needed to determine whether Jones suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome. Fabricut told Jones she needed to be evaluated for CTS by her personal physician and to provide the company with the results. Jones’s physician gave her a battery of tests and concluded that she did not have carpal tunnel syndrome. Despite this Fabricut, rescinded its job offer because Knox Labs indicated that she did have carpal tunnel syndrome.
Fabricut also agreed to disseminate anti-discrimination policies to employees and provide anti-discrimination training to employees with hiring responsibilities.
Title II of GINA prohibits employers with more than 15 employees, employment agencies, labor organizations, and joint labor-management training and apprenticeship program committees from using genetic information when making employment decisions (e.g. hiring, firing, promotions, placement, compensation, privileges, seniority, etc.).