The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is making it clear that discriminating against employees because of their medical history will not be tolerated.
On May 16, 2013, the EEOC filed its first class action lawsuit against Founders Pavilion, Inc., a 120-bed skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility in Corning, New York. They cited alleged violations to the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), as well as violations to the Americans with Disabilities Act and Civil Rights Act.
On January 13, 2014, the lawsuit was settled for $370,000.
Alleged Violations to GINA
According to court papers, the nursing home facility allegedly conducted a post-offer, pre-employment medical exam, which included questions about the applicant’s family medical history. Applicants then had to take the exam again every year.
GINA makes it illegal to use genetic information”which includes an individual’s genetic tests, family medical history, and genetic tests of family members”in making employment decisions. The Act also restricts employers from requesting genetic information from applicants or employees.
In addition to these violations, the EEOC claimed the facility violated applicants’ civil rights by refusing to hire and/or firing women because they were pregnant or had perceived disabilities.
Facility Pays for Asking About Family Medical History
According to the EEOC’s press release, they tried to reach a pre-litigation settlement with Founders Pavilion, but failed, which is why they filed the lawsuit in the Western District of New York. Only ten months after filing, the parties reached a settlement agreement on January 9, 2014. U.S. District Judge Charles Siragusa signed off on a consent decree resolving the matter.
As a result of the settlement, the facility will pay $110,400 in damages to 138 people from whom they sought genetic information. They will also pay an additional $259,600 to five individuals they allegedly fired or failed to hire for reasons prohibited by the Civil Rights Act.
Employers should take heed of this settlement, said EEOC New York District Director Kevin Berry, because there are real consequences to asking applicants or employees for their family medical history. The EEOC will pursue these cases to the fullest extent of the law to ensure that such genetic inquiries are never made of applicants or employees.
The Commission goes on to state that addressing emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, such as genetic discrimination, is one of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan.