BMWE succeeds in halting BNSF genetic testing

CLEVELAND -- The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes announced Monday that its lawsuit against the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad has resulted in a federal court order requiring BNSF to immediately cease and desist coercive genetic testing of its employees.

On Feb. 9, 2001, the BMWE filed a lawsuit against BNSF and Athena Diagnostics seeking "to remedy the illegal, compulsory regime of genetic testing of injured employees" by the BNSF.

Harry Zanville, lead counsel for the BMWE, said that the BNSF agreed to entry of a 60-day order compelling it to stop all genetic testing of its employees, to refrain from use of any tests previously taken, to guarantee the privacy of those people already tested, and to not subject to discharge or discipline those employees who refused to submit to genetic testing. Zanville said that this order should "be a real relief for those who believe individuals still have some rights of privacy in the United States."

He added: "This case was never about money. We weren't asking for damages. We just wanted the railroad to quit genetic testing."

Zanville said the case was filed in Sioux City because Iowa has a law forbidding genetic testing.

"The activity pretty much was concentrated in the Upper Midwest," Zanville said.

The BMWE brought in Zanville because of his specialized expertise. He is a former assistant county prosecutor in Iowa who later specialized in civil rights and labor law and in 1998 was considered for an appointment to a Republican seat on the Surface Transportation Board.

"This case shows why it was important that the states take the lead in legislating to protect American citizens from those who would abuse their positions of power," said BMWE President Mac A. Fleming. There are 22 states which have prohibited involuntary genetic testing by employers.

The court ordered BNSF to immediately end its policy of requiring all union members who claim work-related carpal tunnel syndrome to provide blood samples for a DNA test for a condition that may indicate a predisposition to some forms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

"We congratulate the BMWE on its appropriate response to the carrier's outrageous actions and we support their efforts in defense of railroad workers," said BLE International President Edward Dubroski.

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February 16, 2001
bentley@ble.org

 

2001 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers