Federal Agency Files First Suit Enforcing Genetic Discrimination Law Against Fabric Distributor That Requested Family Medical History, Refused to Hire Woman
TULSA, Okla. – Fabricut, Inc., one of the world’s largest distributors of decorative fabrics, will pay $50,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability and genetic information discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. This is the first lawsuit ever filed by the EEOC alleging genetic discrimination.
In its lawsuit, the EEOC charged that Tulsa-based 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, and violated the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) when it asked for her family medical history in its post-offer medical examination.
“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 be denied a job on a prohibited basis.”
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 from carpal tunnel syndrome (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 Although Jones provided this information to Fabricut, the company rescinded its job offer because Knox Labs indicated that she did have CTS.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.
Such alleged conduct violates GINA, which makes it illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants because of genetic information, which includes family medical history; and also restricts employers from requesting, requiring or purchasing such information. GINA was signed into law in 2008, and took effect the following year.
The alleged conduct also violates the ADA which prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities, or individuals who are incorrectly regarded as having disabilities. The EEOC first attempted to settle the matter through its conciliation process.
The lawsuit and consent decree settling the case were filed at the same time on May 7, 2013, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma (Civil Case No.: 13-CV-248-CVE-PJC). In addition to the $50,000 payment, Fabricut has agreed to take specified actions designed to prevent future discrimination, including the posting of an anti-discrimination notice to employees, dissemination of anti-discrimination policies to employees and providing anti-discrimination training to employees with hiring responsibilities.
One of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan is for the agency to address emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, which includes genetic discrimination.
“We believe that when Fabricut fully understood and appreciated what happened, it took action to remedy the situation, as this quick settlement demonstrates,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Barbara Seely. “Although GINA has been law since 2009, many employers still do not understand that requesting family medical history, even through a contract medical examiner, violates this law.”
EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Patrick Holman added, “Fabricut has been cooperative in working with the EEOC to reach a fair and timely resolution of this case, and the company appears committed to addressing the alleged discriminatory practices at issue in order to prevent any future violations.”
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the agency is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.