May 30, 2013

More GINA Enforcement: EEOC Files Genetic Discrimination Class Action

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed its first class action lawsuit, EEOC v. Founders Pavilion, alleging violations of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), which took effect in 2009. GINA applies to two separate spheres, health insurance (Title I) and employment (Title II). Under Title II of GINA, it is illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants because of genetic information. In this legal action, the EEOC has sued Founders, Inc., a Corning, N.Y., nursing and rehabilitation center. In the complaint filed last week, the EEOC alleges that Founders: 
(1) requires a class of applicants and employees to provide genetic information in response to questions about family medical history, in violation of GINA, (2) terminated two individuals it regarded as disabled, and terminated one disabled individual after failing to provide her a reasonable accommodation during her probationary period, all in violation of the ADA, and (3) refused to hire one woman, withdrew an offer of employment to a second woman, and terminated a third woman because they were pregnant, in violation of Title VII. 
This lawsuit originates from the violation of three separate statutes enforced by the EEOC: GINA, American with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is the second GINA enforcement action announced by the EEOC this month (see here). This newly filed case has overtones of an earlier pre-GINA lawsuit from 1998, Norman Bloodsaw v. Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, alleging multiple civil rights claims based on the employment practices of a federal research laboratory. The 9th Circuit upheld findings that the laboratory had conducted unlawful surreptitious medical testing of and discriminated against employees in violation of the ADA, Title VII, and both the federal and state (California) constitutional rights to privacy. With respect to genetic testing, the courts found that the laboratory had conducted unauthorized testing for sickle cell trait, a genetically based condition, and the 9th Circuit found that practice unconstitutional under the general privacy protections afforded by the 4th Amendment: 
One can think of few subject areas more personal and more likely to implicate privacy interests than that of one's health or genetic make-up. 
Norman-Bloodsaw reached unauthorized genetic testing through constitutional privacy claims in a pre-GINA era; surreptitious genetic testing in the workplace has also been captured using ADA violations. This month’s actions from the EEOC signal its seriousness about utilizing GINA to limit excessive probing of genetic medical information from applicants or employees, an aspect of the statute that, until now, was likely less appreciated (or observed) than the more prominent prohibition of adverse workplace treatment of employees based on their genetic status (discrimination in the form of failure to hire, differential treatment or termination).

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