Milestone GINA Case Warns Employers about Application Questions
January 30, 2014
Congress enacted the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) in 2008. Title II of GINA specifically prohibits employers from discriminating against or harassing job applicants or current employees based on their genetic information. To prevent employers from unlawfully using genetic information in employment decisions, companies may not request or require applicants or employees to provide such information.
Under the law, genetic information includes the following:
Information regarding a person’s genetic tests;
Genetic information showing an increased risk for a disorder, disease, or other medical condition;
Information showing an individual requested or received any type of genetic services;
Genetic information of a pregnant woman or fetus;
Genetic tests of family members or family medical history.
GINA prevents employers from requesting family medical history and tests because such information may show that the individual may have a predisposition for certain diseases or disorders.
Landmark Case for EEOC
Issues under GINA have been litigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) three times, with only one case alleging an employer engaged in systemic discrimination. The former case, EEOC v. Founders Pavilion Inc., recently settled, and the EEOC calls the settlement a major milestone in employment law.
As part of its hiring process, Founders Pavilion Inc. conducted pre-employment medical exams, during which it unlawfully requested family medical history in violation of GINA. The EEOC case further alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII, claiming that based on the medical exams, the company refused to hire two women for perceived disabilities, refused to hire three women because of pregnancy, and fired a current employee after refusing to accommodate her disability.
Ten months after the complaint, the EEOC and Founders Pavilion came to a settlement agreement totaling $370,000. The five employees who suffered unlawful discrimination under the ADA and Title VII will split $259,600, while 138 individuals who were unlawfully asked to provide family medical history or other genetic information will share $110,400. The company will furthermore have to post notices of the lawsuit in the workplace, adjust its anti-discrimination policy and notify and train employees on the changes, and periodically report to the EEOC for five years.
Reminder for All Employers
Though GINA claims have been few and far between, the Founders Pavilion case reminds employers that the EEOC will take allegations of GINA violations very seriously. Furthermore, the case is another example of how GINA violations often go hand-in-hand with violations of the ADA, Title VII, or other employment laws. The consequences of such violations may be serious for employers.
Asking questions regarding family medical history on job applications or during job-related medical exams is against the law. There are only six narrow exceptions to this rule, which may be found here. Otherwise, companies should make sure their application and medical exam policies are in compliance with the law.
If you believe that you have suffered unlawful discrimination based on your genetic information or any other protected reason, you should contact Pershing Square Law Firm as soon as possible to discuss a possible case.