Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination in employment, public services, accommodations, and communications based on a disability. In 1995, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued an interpretation that discrimination based on genetic information relating to illness, disease, or other disorders is prohibited by the ADA. In a subsequent Senate hearing in 2000, EEOC Commissioner Paul Miller further affirmed that the ADA “can be interpreted to prohibit employment discrimination based on genetic information.” However, these EEOC opinions are not legally binding, and whether the ADA protects against genetic discrimination in the workplace has never been tested in court. For more information, see: The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) .

The ADA has, however, been used to challenge genetic testing practices by an employer. In 2001, EEOC filed a suit against the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railroad for secretly testing its employees for a rare genetic condition (hereditary neuropathy with liability to pressure palsies — HNPP) that causes carpal tunnel syndrome as one of its many symptoms. BNSF claimed that the testing was a way of determining whether the high incidence of repetitive-stress injuries among its employees was work-related. Besides testing for HNPP, company-paid doctors also were instructed to screen for several other medical conditions such as diabetes and alcoholism. A mediated settlement was announced by the EEOC and BNSF in 2002.

For more information on the settlement between EEOC and BNSF, see: http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/5-8-02.cfm [eeoc.gov]