DOJ Settles Disability Discrimination Lawsuit Against New Jersey Rail Service

Two federal laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) of 2008, protect employees from discrimination on the basis of disability. Part of this protection involves prohibiting inquiries into employees’ medical histories that are not specifically related to those employees’ jobs. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced that it had settled claims against a New Jersey rail line for allegedly conducting medical examinations and requesting health information from employees in violation of both statutes. If you have been subjected to  disability discrimination in the workplace, reach out to a New Jersey employment lawyer as soon as possible.

The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants on the basis of disability. Employers may not require medical examinations of job applicants or employees under the ADA, except to ask about or assess their ability to perform specific job duties. They may require a medical examination for new hires if the examination is the same for every new employee in the same category “regardless of disability.” The ADA allows mandatory medical examinations of employees if they are “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” All other medical examinations or inquiries are prohibited.

GINA protects employees’ and job applicants’ “genetic information,” which it defines as information obtained from genetic tests an individual or their family members, as well as “the manifestation of a disease or disorder” in the individual’s family members. Employers may not request genetic information from employees or job applicants, nor may they request or obtain such information from any third party, except in specific situations. Exceptions include authorization by the employee or job applicant; publicly-available information in a newspaper or book; and “genetic monitoring of the biological effects of toxic substances in the workplace,” provided that the employer has notified the employee and obtained their written consent.

The lawsuit mentioned above originated with two complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2014. Both complainants alleged that the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corp. (PATH), which operates rail lines between New Jersey and New York, required employees to submit to medical examinations in violation of the ADA and GINA. Refusal to participate in a required exam, they claimed, resulted in adverse employment consequences.

The complaint alleges that, prior to 2018, employees were required to submit to “a comprehensive physical examination; a complete urinalysis; a blood chemistry profile and other testing that elicited information about disability.” The employer narrowed the scope of the exam in 2018, but the EEOC took the position that even the narrower exam violated the ADA and GINA. Other allegedly unlawful policies included one that required anyone who used more than five days of sick leave in a row to report to the employer’s Office of Medical Services on the sixth day “for a mandatory fitness-for-duty exam.” This and similar policies, the lawsuit claimed, “might reveal a disability or the nature or severity of a disability.”

After it completed its investigation, the EEOC referred the matter to the DOJ. The employer and the DOJ reached a settlement agreement. The DOJ filed its complaint and a proposed consent decree at the same time in November 2021. The settlement includes an end to unnecessary medical exams and inquiries, staff training on the ADA and GINA, periodic reports on compliance, and compensation for the two complainants.

If you have questions about a dispute with an employer in New Jersey or New York, the employment lawyers at the Resnick Law Group are available to address your concerns and discuss your options. Please contact us online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997 today to schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our skilled and knowledgeable team.

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