The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia has ordered Atlas Logistics Group Retail Services LLC to pay two employees $2.23 million. Why? Because Atlas forced employees Jack Lowe and Dennis Reynolds to take DNA tests in a bid to determine who was continuously defecating in the workplace.

Apparently, a mystery employee was continuously pooping in one of Atlas’ warehouses. Fed up, the company allegedly forced employees to submit to cheek swabs to determine who the culprit was, threatening termination if employees refused. In response, Lowe and Reynolds brought suit claiming that Atlas’ actions violated the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). The trial, which began June 17, concluded on Monday, June 22 when the jury found in favor of the employees. The jury subsequently awarded Reynolds $225,000 and Lowe $250,000 for emotional damages and imposed $1.75 million in punitive damages.

In 2008, President George W. Bush signed GINA into law. The Act’s purpose was intended to assure workers that they may take important genetic tests without the threat of workplace discrimination. Accordingly, Title II of GINA prohibits employers from considering genetic information when making employment decisions.

This case is unique because Atlas did not force employees to submit to the tests in order to acquire their genetic information. Rather, Atlas ordered the DNA tests in response to a rather serious problem. Ideally, one of the DNA tests would have matched the feces and the culprit would have been identified. This is not how the scenario played out. Neither Reynolds nor Lowe were a match and now Atlas must pay a large sum in damages.

While at first glance this case seems absurd, it raises important issues about genetic rights. Clearly, liability under GINA encompasses a broader range of behavior than many employers understand. In 2014, for example, Founders Pavilion, a nursing and rehabilitation center, had to pay almost $400,000 because of its post-offer, pre-employment questionnaire. Even something a simple as inquiring about family medical history could violate GINA. It is crucial that employers educate themselves so that they better understand what they are not allowed to do.

 

Sara Hunter

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