Work it Out Blog

Beware of GINA in Workplace Investigations

Aug 12, 2015 by Jill C. McQueen

GINA, the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act of 2008, makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees or job applicants because of genetic information.  The law also prohibits employers from requesting genetic information about employees or using such information in making employment decisions of any kind.  Since the law became effective in November of 2009, it has been only rarely invoked.  Of all charges of discrimination filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, less than 1% include allegations that an employer has violated GINA.

Nevertheless, employers who ignore GINA’s prohibitions do so at their own peril.  This was the lesson a Georgia employer recently learned.  Atlas Logistics is a provider of long-haul transportation and storage services for the grocery industry.  In 2012, it discovered an extremely unpleasant problem:  an unknown offender was defecating in the warehouse.   After comparing work schedules with the timing of the incidents, the company arrived at a list of suspects.  The employer then hired a forensics laboratory, requested cheek swabs of the employees suspected of wrongdoing, and commissioned a test to compare the suspects’ DNA with “evidence” collected from the employer’s warehouse.  The employees tested were not a match, and the culprit remained at large. 

Two of the employees who were exonerated by the DNA swab filed a law suit in which they claimed that their employer violated GINA by requesting information from the forensics laboratory about the results of that DNA testing.  The employer defended the case by arguing that “genetic information,” as that term is used by the law, refers only to information related to an individual’s propensity for disease.  The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia rejected that narrow interpretation of the law.  This summer, a jury awarded $2,230,000.00 to the two employees. 

As this case shows, a quick discussion with your attorney could save a significant amount of time and money if your company is considering requesting genetic information from an employee.

For more information please contact Jill McQueen at jcmqueen@dayketterer.com, or your Day Ketterer attorney at info@dayketterer.com, or 330-455-0173.

The content of this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice for any purpose. This blog is not intended to present an exhaustive summary of all applicable laws, or to take the place of legal advice.  If you have any questions regarding the law, please contact us for assistance.