In what is believed to be the first jury verdict in a Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) employment case, an Atlanta federal jury recently awarded $2.23 million in damages to two employees ordered to provide saliva samples as part of a company investigation. The company had collected the saliva samples while trying to determine who was defecating on its warehouse floor. Low v. Atlas Logistics Group Retail Services, LLC, No. 1:13-cv-02425 (N.D. Ga. June 22, 2015).
The jury awarded the employees $250,000 and $225,000, respectively, in damages for emotional pain and suffering and $1.75 million combined in punitive damages. Counsel for the two employees reportedly also will seek an award of over $500,000 in attorneys’ fees.
Under GINA, which took effect in 2009, it is illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants because of genetic information. GINA prohibits the use of genetic information in making employment decisions, restricts employers from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information, and strictly limits the disclosure of genetic information.
The case highlights the importance of paying close attention to potential issues that might give rise to GINA claims. While GINA has not received the same attention to date as other federal nondiscrimination statutes, the consequences of violations, as in this case, can be staggering.