In February of 2001, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a court action against Northern Santa Fe Railway Company for requiring employees diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) to undergo DNA testing.
Allegedly, the employer wanted the blood samples to conduct genetic testing to determine a predisposition to the condition. The court papers state the employees were asked for blood samples but not asked to consent to their use for genetic testing.
The federal lawsuit was settled on April 18, 2001. In the settlement, the Fort Worth, Texas-based Burlington Northern agreed to preserve blood samples, test results and all other data related to the testing until the discrimination complaints are resolved.
On May 8, 2002, Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Co. agreed to pay $2.2 million to 36 employees who unknowingly were part of genetic sampling. The railroad denies that it violated the law or engaged in discrimination.
In the settlement, the railroad agreed not to use genetic tests in required medical exams of its employees. It will provide more Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) training to its medical and claims employees, and will have management review the company’s major medical policies and practices. Test samples will be returned to workers and medical records will be purged of any reference to genetic tests.
Reportedly, the company began asking for blood samples after about 125 railroad workers had filed reports of work-related CTS, which may be caused or exacerbated by repetitive motions, force, and awkward postures. The company contacted 36 of those workers, telling them they had to have a medical exam. Blood was drawn from 22 of the workers and testing was completed on 15 at the time the EEOC sued.
The tests were intended to determine which workers might be genetically inclined to develop CTS, allegedly with the hope of denying them workers’ compensation benefits.