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It’s Not Always Over After the Verdict: Lessons from a Groundbreaking Federal Discrimination Case from Atlanta

warehouseThere are many different ways in which an employer can commit illegal discrimination in the conduct of its business. One of the more recently enacted statutory prohibitions was passed into law with the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008. That law bars employers from, among other things, making hiring, firing, promotion, pay, or privileges decisions based upon an employee’s genetic information. One case brought in federal court here in Georgia under this new law made national headlines back in 2015. Today, that 2015 ruling and the legal steps that followed it more recently serve as clear reminders of the multi-faceted aspects of discrimination litigation and the importance of having knowledgeable and diligent Georgia discrimination attorneys on your side.

The 2015 case arose from the problem a North Georgia warehouse employer was having with one of its employees defecating in one of its warehouses. The employer thought it had a solution:  DNA testing. Two men who were tested but were excluded as suspects by the DNA results sued the employer. The cheek swab tests the men underwent violated GINA’s broad prohibition against employers’ requesting genetic information from their employees, the men argued.

The men were successful in holding the employer liable. The federal judge who heard their case issued a ruling awarding a summary judgment in favor of the employees on their GINA claim. The men initially received a combined award in excess of $2 million.

The ruling was important and made news for several reasons. One reason, certainly, was the judge’s colorful recitation of the case’s peculiar facts. Additionally, though, there was the groundbreaking nature of the result, with two employees receiving more than $2 million just for undergoing an improper DNA test. It was a stark reminder to employers of the importance of diligently ensuring compliance with all applicable anti-discrimination laws because of the stiff penalties that can await those who do not.

Another important lesson from this case is that, just because the verdict is in, that doesn’t mean your case is over. In the warehouse company’s case, it made post-trial arguments to the judge. Those arguments centered around the assertion that the $2.225 million award was too high because the law capped compensatory and punitive damages at $300,000 per employee. The District Court reduced the award from $2.225 million to $600,000.

Even after this, the case was not complete. The employer appealed. The warehouse company contended to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that the lower court was incorrect in finding a GINA violation. The employer argued that the collection of the employees’ saliva was not a request for genetic information, which is a required element of liability under GINA. That appeal ended late last year when the employer requested a dismissal of the appellate case. It did so because it reached a settlement with the plaintiffs. There are many reasons why settling and dropping an appeal might be a wise move for an employer. Even if the employer feels that its appeal is strong, financial considerations could dictate that a settlement makes superior strategic sense as opposed to proceeding with litigation, especially if a successful appeal would only result in a new trial as opposed to an outright victory.

Whether you are an employer or an employee, having skilled employment counsel at every step along the way can help you as you deal with your discrimination case. The diligent Georgia discrimination attorneys at Mays & Kerr have many years of experience effectively representing both employees and employers in genetic information and other discrimination cases.

To speak with one of our lawyers about your case, call 1-877-986-5529.

More blog posts:

Eleventh Circuit Upholds Six-Figure Discrimination Verdict for Breastfeeding Mom ‘Constructively Discharged’ from Her Job, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Sept. 13, 2017

High-Profile Atlanta Case Shines Spotlight on Federal Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act and Genetic Privacy in the Workplace, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, July 1, 2015

Photo credit: icondigital, [CC0 License], via Pixabay