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EEOC Settles First Genetic Discrimination Lawsuit

Filed under: Benefits


On May 7, 2013, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) settled its first disability and genetic information discrimination lawsuit in a district court case in Oklahoma. While the settlement specifically relates only to the company involved, employers should be aware of the potential consequences for discrimination.

The EEOC has stated that it will focus on addressing illegal discrimination under GINA, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which first took effect in 2009. "Employers need to be aware that GINA prohibits requesting family medical history," said David Lopez, General Counsel of the EEOC. "When illegal questions are required as part of the hiring process, the EEOC will be vigilant to ensure that no one will be denied a job on a prohibited basis."


Under the settlement, Fabricut, Inc., one of the world's largest distributors of decorative fabrics, agreed to a $50,000 payment and to take specified actions designed to prevent future discrimination. These actions include posting an anti-discrimination notice to employees, disseminating anti-discrimination policies to employees and providing anti-discrimination training to employees with hiring responsibilities.


In its lawsuit, the EEOC charged that Fabricut violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it refused to hire a woman for the position of memo clerk because it regarded her as having carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), and violated the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) when it asked for her family medical history in its post-offer medical examination.

GINA makes it illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants because of genetic information, including family medical history. GINA also restricts employers from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information. The ADA prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities, or individuals who are incorrectly regarded as having disabilities.

According to the EEOC's suit, Rhonda Jones worked for Fabricut in a temporary position as a memo clerk for 90 days. When her temporary assignment was coming to an end, she applied for a permanent job in that position. 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.

When Jones reported for her physical, she was required to fill out a questionnaire and disclose the existence of numerous separately listed disorders in her family medical history. The questionnaire asked about the existence of heart disease, hypertension, cancer, tuberculosis, diabetes, arthritis and "mental disorders" in her family. Jones was then subjected to medical testing, from which the examiner concluded that further evaluation was needed to determine whether Jones suffered CTS.

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 CTS. Although Jones provided this information to Fabricut, the company rescinded its job offer because Knox Labs indicated that she did have CTS. Jones made a written request for reconsideration, emphasizing that she does not have CTS, but Fabricut ignored her plea.

The EEOC alleged that Fabricut's conduct violated both GINA and the ADA. The EEOC attempted to resolve the issues with Fabricut through its conciliation process, but ultimately filed a lawsuit to remedy the situation. The EEOC acknowledged that the quick settlement demonstrated Fabricut's cooperation and commitment to address discriminatory practices.

Source: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

This article is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel for legal advice.

Design © 2013 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved. KP 5/13

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