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Hit with a federal lawsuit, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway agreed Monday to stop requiring genetic testing of employees who file claims for a wrist condition called carpal tunnel syndrome. On Friday, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a federal lawsuit charging that the policy violated the Americans With Disabilities Act. The EEOC said a railroad worker who refused to provide a blood sample after filing an injury claim was threatened with termination. The lawsuit marked the first time that the EEOC had challenged genetic testing. Burlington Northern said Monday it will stop the practice under an order to be filed in court. However, the freight railroad disputed some of the EEOC’s charges. “Several employees refused to take the blood test, but none received any disciplinary action,” Burlington Northern said in a statement. All are still active employees, it said. Burlington Northern, which has about 40,000 employees, said about 125 workers have filed claims for carpal tunnel syndrome since last March, when the testing policy was adopted, and about 20 were tested. Carpal tunnel syndrome is believed to be caused by repetitive hand motions. Along with related injuries, it is the leading workplace hazard, according to the National Academy of Sciences. Burlington Northern asked employees to submit to blood tests to see if they carried a genetic trait called Chromosome 17 deletion. Some studies have suggested a person with that trait is more likely to develop some forms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Privacy advocates have said genetic information could be used by employers and insurance companies to discriminate against people who are considered more likely to become ill or disabled. EEOC Chairwoman Ida L. Castro said advances in science require the commission to be more vigilant to protect workers’ rights. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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