(Reuters) - A federal jury in Georgia has awarded $2.2 million to two workers whose DNA was illegally tested after they were suspected of defecating in their company’s warehouse.
The jury in U.S. district court in Atlanta said on Monday that grocery distributor Atlas Logistics Group Retail Services had disregarded the 2008 Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) and should pay the money to employees Jack Lowe and Dennis Reynolds for their pain, suffering and mental anguish.
The law says employers cannot use a person’s genetic information in making decisions about hiring, firing, promotions or health insurance coverage.
In 2012 Lowe and Reynolds were required to give cheek swab samples to the company after it discovered feces in its Atlanta warehouse on several occasions. The tests came back negative and the men sued the following year.
U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg, who dubbed the case “the mystery of the devious defecator,” last month rejected Atlas’ claim that GINA only prohibits employers from using genetic material to determine a worker’s propensity for disease. The case is believed to be the first brought under GINA to go to trial.
Dion Kohler, an Atlanta lawyer who represents Atlas, said on Tuesday that under the law, the jury award would likely be reduced to $600,000, the maximum allowed under the law. He said the company was considering appealing the verdict.
“(Atlas) made diligent efforts to act reasonably in the face of a crisis facing its business and to comply with this relatively new and unique law,” said Kohler.
Amanda Farahany, who represents Lowe and Reynolds, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Last week, she said a jury verdict in her clients’ favor would set an important precedent on the use of DNA by employers.
The case is Lowe v. Atlas Logistics Group Retail Services LLC, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, No. 13-cv-2425.
Editing by Ted Botha and Jeffrey Benkoe