Poop Vandalism Mystery Ends In Huge Victory For Your Genetic Rights

The first of what will likely be many genetic discrimination trials in the years to come
Stuart Caie, CC BY 2.0

Police were seeking a “devious defecator”: the person responsible for leaving piles of poop in the aisles of a grocery store outside Atlanta. So to help out, the company that operates the store, Atlas Logistics Group Retail Services, asked employee suspects to take a voluntary cheek-swab genetic test.

Two employees who worked in the warehouse didn’t want to take the test because they felt humiliated and feared where their genetic information would end up, but they did so because they felt their jobs were on the line, as Buzzfeed reports. When the results came back, it turned out that neither employee was behind the vandalism. In May 2013, seven months after the test, the employees sued Atlas for genetic discrimination.

The law that establishes grounds for the lawsuit is the little-known 2008 federal Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). The law’s primary intention was to prevent people from being treated unfairly (by insurance companies, by employers) based on their DNA and its health consequences. But one of the clauses states that employers are not allowed to collect genetic information on their employees, which is how the warehouse workers won their case this past May. This week, a federal jury granted the men $2.2 million in damages, Buzzfeed states.

This is the first GINA case to go to trial, and the decision has established a legal precedent for surprisingly high damages for the many cases that are sure to come. As more people get genetic tests, for medical reasons or out of sheer curiosity, there are sure to instances where that information could end up in the wrong hands, generating more cases like this one. Given how much this case has cost Atlas in Damages, maybe other companies will think twice before testing their employees’ genes.