Charging a violation of their civil rights, workers filed a lawsuit February 9 through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The suit demanded the company end its practice of forcing workers who file carpal tunnel claims to provide blood samples for use in DNA testing. The syndrome is a leading workplace occupational hazard.
In the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Sioux City, Iowa, the commission said the blood tests violate workers' "most intimate privacy rights," and are "an invasion of privacy and a person's bodily integrity."
The lawsuit says employees were not asked to consent to the tests, and at least one worker who refused to provide a blood sample was threatened with losing his job. Four unionized workers--three from Nebraska and one from North Dakota--said the railroad also required them to submit lists of all family members who had been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome.
This was the first time the EEOC has challenged genetic testing. The commission said these tests violate the Americans With Disabilities Act. "Any test which purports to predict future disabilities, whether or not it is accurate, is unlikely to be relevant to the employee's present ability to perform his or her job," stated commissioner Paul Miller.
The company began its testing program last year to see if workers with carpal tunnel syndrome carried a genetic trait called Chromosome 17 deletion. In response to the lawsuit, Burlington Northern announced that the tests had been stopped.
Company spokesman Richard Russack claimed the objective of the DNA testing was "to determine whether there was any evidence that the claimed carpal-tunnel injury may have been the result of a genetic predisposition as opposed to a job-related injury." He added that the company now thought it was "in our best interests" to stop the tests.
Burlington Northern said about 125 employees have filed claims since March 2000 for carpal-tunnel syndrome related injuries, and that about 20 of them had undergone DNA tests.
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