WASHINGTON - The U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today filed its first court action challenging genetic testing a Petition for a Preliminary Injunction against Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad to end genetic testing of employees who have filed claims for work-related injuries based on carpal tunnel syndrome. EEOC alleges that the employees are not told of the genetic test, or asked to consent to it, and that at least one individual who has refused to provide a blood sample because he suspected it would be used for genetic testing has been threatened with imminent discharge if he fails to submit the sample.
"This is EEOC's first lawsuit challenging genetic testing. As science and technology advance, we must be vigilant and ensure that these new developments are not used in a manner that violate workers' rights," said EEOC Chairwoman Ida L. Castro. "Today, the Commission has shown that we will act quickly when confronted with such an egregious violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act as is presented here."
In its Petition, filed in U. S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, located in Sioux City, Iowa, the EEOC asks the Court to order the railroad to end its nationwide policy of requiring employees who have submitted claims of work-related carpal tunnel syndrome to provide blood samples which are then used for a genetic DNA test for Chromosome 17 deletion, which is claimed to predict some forms of carpal tunnel syndrome. EEOC also seeks to halt any disciplinary action or termination of the employee who has refused to submit a blood sample.
EEOC Commissioner Paul Steven Miller explained, "The Commission takes the position that basing employment decisions on genetic testing violates the ADA. In particular, employers may only require employees to submit to any medical examination if those examinations are job related and consistent with business necessity. Any test which purports to predict future disabilities, whether or not it is accurate, is unlikely to be relevant to the employee's present ability to perform his or her job."
Chester V. Bailey, Director of EEOC's Milwaukee District Office, noted that the action is based on six charges of discrimination filed with the office. Four of the charges were filed by affected individuals; two were filed by officials of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of the Way Employees on behalf of all affected union members. Bailey certified that EEOC had determined after a preliminary investigation that "the employees would suffer irreparable injury through the invasion of their most intimate privacy rights if the practice of testing is not ended."
EEOC is the federal agency responsible for enforcing the ADA, which prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities, including prohibiting an employer from seeking disability related information not related to an employee's ability to perform his or her job. In addition, EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the bases of race, color, religion, sex or national origin; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which protects workers age 40 and older; and the Equal Pay Act which prohibits sex-based differences in compensation. Further information about EEOC is available on the agency's Web site at www.eeoc.gov.