Labor & Employment

EEOC suits claim employers violated genetic bias law by asking for family history in required exams

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleges in two lawsuits that employers violated federal genetic discrimination law by asking about family medical history in required physical exams.

The suits, filed in May, claim a violation of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, a 2008 law signed by President George W. Bush, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports. Defendants in the suits are Fabricut Inc., a Tulsa, Okla., fabric distributor, and Founders Pavilion Inc., a Corning, N.Y., nursing home.

The law affects corporate wellness programs, the Wall Street Journal says. “Under GINA,” the story says, “employers can ask wellness-program participants questions about family medical histories only if the companies make clear that answering is optional—which some business groups say can diminish the programs’ effectiveness.”

Lawyer Larry Lorber, who co-chairs the Washington, D.C., employment group at Proskauer Rose, offers another alternative to the EEOC’s strict enforcement. He tells the Wall Street Journal that physicians should be allowed to gather needed information on family medical history, but they should be restricted in what they share with employers.

Fabricut has agreed to settle the EEOC case, without admitting wrongdoing, by paying $50,000 to a job seeker asked to provide a medical history. The company says the medical information was gathered by a third-party medical provider. This EEOC press release has more information on the case, the first suit by the agency alleging genetic bias. The suit against Founders Pavilion is pending.

We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy and the ABA Code of Conduct.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.