EEOC moves forward on genetic discrimination enforcement

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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sent a warning to employers nationwide of its intent to step up its legal action under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

A hand and pen pictured as employment application is complete

EEOC moves against illegal questioning

On May 7, in a case regarding Oklahoma-based Fabricut, Inc, the EEOC filed and settled its first lawsuit under the 2008 legislation. Nine days later, the EEOC filed its first class-action lawsuit under GINA, against New York-based Founders Pavilion, Inc.

“Employers need to be aware that GINA prohibits requesting family medical history,” said David Lopez, EEOC general counsel, in a news release. “When illegal questions are required as part of the hiring process, the EEOC will be vigilant to ensure that no one be denied a job on a prohibited basis.”

GINA prohibits all government employers and private employers with 15 or more employees from using genetic information in any employment decisions. Additionally, it bars health care insurers from denying coverage or charging higher premiums on the basis of an individual’s genetic information.

The legislation, signed in to law by President Bush in March 2008, passed the Senate unanimously and the House of Representatives unanimously with the exception of Rep. Ron Paul.

In the Fabricut case, Rhonda Jones worked for 90 days in a temporary position at the company, one of the world’s largest distributors of decorative fabrics. After being offered a permanent position as a memo clerk in August 2011, Fabricut forced Jones to undergo a pre-employment drug test and physical, where she was “required to fill out a questionnaire and disclose the existence of numerous separately listed disorders in her family medical history,” according to the news release.

Fabricut, believing that Jones had carpel tunnel syndrome, rescinded its job offer, even though later tests showed that she did not, in fact, have the syndrome.

Jones filed a complaint with the EEOC, which, after failing to reach an out-of-court settlement, filed a lawsuit in the in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma alleging violation of GINA, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Under a consent decree approved by the court the same day, Fabricut will pay $50,000, as well as take other steps to prevent future acts of genetic discrimination.

In the Founders case, a nursing and rehabilitation center allegedly conducts a similar post-offer, pre-employment medical examination process., according to the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York in Rochester.

The lawsuit alleges that the company fired or refused to hire three women on the basis of pregnancy in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as well as fired two women on the basis of their perceived disabilities in violation of the ADA.