EEOC settles genetic discrimination case

Graphic depiction of a double helix DNA model against a blue background
Genetic Information Discrimination

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced November 10 that it reached a consent decree with a California-based seed and fertilizer provider, requiring the company to pay $187,000 to settle a series of alleged civil rights violations, including those under the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act of 2008.

“The law with respect to genetic information is relatively new, and this is one of the first cases resolved in litigation by the EEOC in this district,” said Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office, in a news release. “We commend All Star Seed, La Valle Sabbia and Abatti for making the necessary changes to comply with the federal anti-discrimination laws on both genetic information and disability.”

In September 2013, the EEOC sued the Abatti Group, and its subsidiaries, for violations of GINA, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act.

Under the ADA, employers are prohibited from making pre-offer medical inquiries, although they are allowed to ask about job-related functions. After the job offer is made, employers may require potential employees to undergo medical examinations, as long as other employees are subject to such examinations and the information is kept confidential.

In response to scientific advances in genetic testing, Congress overwhelmingly passed GINA in 2008, creating new restrictions for health insurers and employers in their use of genetic information, defined as “manifestations of a diseases or disorder in family members” of an employee.

GINA expanded on the ADA by almost completely prohibiting employers, both pre-offer and post-offer, from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information. The EEOC, in ensuing regulations, clarified that genetic information, unlike disability in certain cases, is never necessary to determine an employee’s capacity to perform job-related functions.

In the lawsuit, the EEOC alleged that Abatti Group violated both laws by requiring job applicants to undergo pre-offer physical examinations and health questionnaires, where they were required to detail family history information. The company also allegedly failed to keep the information confidential, in violation of both laws.

The parties entered into a four-year consent decree, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, requiring the Abatti Group to cease making such inquiries, provide training on the various regulations and make its policies publicly available.