Dollar Store Agrees to Pay One Million Dollars to Settle EEOC Lawsuit Alleging ADA and GINA Violations
Since 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has prohibited discrimination in employment practices on the basis of someone’s disability, defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. The ADA protects employees and applicants from discrimination based on their disability, a history of a disability, or if they are regarded as having a disability.
Fast forward nearly 20 years. Since 2009, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) has made it illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants due to a person’s genetic information. Under GINA, employers are prohibited from using genetic information to make employment decisions. Employers are likewise restricted in what kind of genetic information they are allowed to request or collect, and they are strictly limited regarding the disclosure of genetic information.
Both the ADA and GINA are enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). And late last month, the EEOC showed what teeth these laws have when it sued a national retail chain for violations of both laws. The company involved in the lawsuit agreed to pay a massive one million dollars to settle the claims against it. Below, our Marion County, Florida, employment law attorneys discuss the case and the recent settlement between EEOC and Dollar General stores.
Dollar General Sued for Abusing Medical Exams in the Hiring Process
The charges leveled against Dolgencorp, LLC, doing business as Dollar General, stem from an illicit practice going on at the company’s distribution center in Bessemer, Alabama. There, the company required applicants to pass a pre-employment medical exam as part of the hiring process. As part of the exam, applicants were required to reveal family medical history (past and present), identifying family members with conditions such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
The definition of “genetic information” in GINA includes family medical history. Such information is sought by employers precisely to gauge whether an applicant is at a higher risk of getting some disorder, disease or medical condition down the line. Even without conducting a genetic test, employers could still discover protected genetic information by asking about family medical history. GINA restricts how employers can acquire such information and prohibits them from using it as a basis for an employment decision, including whether to hire an applicant or not.
The charges against Dollar General also included using qualification criteria that screened out qualified individuals with disabilities from the job selection process. As one example cited by the EEOC, Dollar General rescinded job offers it had made to applicants if their blood pressure was more than 160/100 or if a vision test revealed less than 20/50 vision in one eye. Employers are allowed under the ADA to require medical exams after a conditional offer of employment, but only for the purpose of determining whether the applicant can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. The blood pressure and vision criteria cited above did not prevent the applicants from performing their jobs safely but were instead used to screen out candidates based on a perceived disability or the possibility of acquiring some medical condition in the future. The ADA does not permit physical tests to be used in this manner.
Based on these allegations, the EEOC filed a lawsuit against Dollar General in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama on behalf of 498 job applicants who were required to disclose the medical history of family members during the screening process and another class of qualified job applicants who had their conditional job offers rescinded based on perceived impairments that did not disqualify them from performing the job. The lawsuit came only after EEOC failed to reach a settlement with Dollar General pre-litigation through a voluntary process known as conciliation.