EEOC, Burlington Northern Settle Genetic Testing Suit

April 19, 2001 ( - Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad has settled a federal lawsuit from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that challenged its secret genetic testing of employees.

The EEOC said that as part of the settlement, the railroad will not:

  • conduct any more tests
  • analyze any test or blood previously obtained
  • retaliate against employees who complained about the practice

Burlington Northern agreed in February to stop the tests after the EEOC sued – its first challenge to genetic testing.

Test Taking
The EEOC’s lawsuit claimed that Burlington Northern violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by threatening to fire a worker who refused to provide a blood sample (see EEOC Seeks Ban of Workplace Genetic Testing )

The test was designed to determine whether employees were predisposed to developing carpal tunnel syndrome, which is believed to be caused by repetitive hand motions.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe says that of the 125 workers who filed claims for carpal tunnel syndrome since March 2000, 18 have been tested.

Labor “Union”

Last week the railroad reached a settlement with two unions in a separate lawsuit regarding the issue.  Burlington Northern also agreed to advocate for federal laws prohibiting companies from using genetic information in employment decisions (see Railroad to Advocate against Genetic Screening ).

However, the EEOC said it still has not resolved discrimination complaints that dozens of workers filed and may seek damages.  Burlington Northern agreed to keep blood samples, test results and all other data related to the testing until those complaints are resolved.

– Nevin Adams