The case of the phantom pooper – dna testing in the dock

The use of DNA testing outside of criminal investigation and paternity tests is a contentious issue. Should an employer have the right to refuse a potential employee because they have a certain genetic propensity to, for instance, heart disease? Should an insurance firm be able to adjust your insurance premiums based on that same fact? A recent court case has bought to life yet another side to the problem.

Back in 2012 Atlas Logistics Group had a problem at their warehouse in Atlanta, Georgia. Someone was leaving poop in the public workspace. Yes, human poop was not being correctly deposited in the appropriate porcelain receptacles and was instead being left in areas where anyone could come into contact with it. Obviously this was a health and safety issue for a company that delivered grocery items to stores as well as being just plain unpleasant, so, quite naturally, they took steps to identify the phantom pooper. Unfortunately a court ruling has decided they went too far.

From their initial enquiries, Atlas singled out 2 employees whose shift pattern matched what, in court documents, were known as the “defecation episodes”. They then called in Speckin Forensic Laboratories, a forensic firm with a history of providing evidence in legal cases. Swabs were taken from the employees cheeks (that is to say, from inside their mouths, not any other cheeks you may have been thinking of) and a DNA comparison done with the offending fecal matter. As a result of this test, both men were cleared. However, that was not to be the end of it.

The men. Jack Lowe and Dennis Reynolds, believed that America’s Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) of 2008 forbade employers forcing genetic testing on it’s employees. Atlas contended that GINA only forbade the use of DNA in hiring, firing or job placement issues where testing revealed propensity to disease, which they had been careful, on Speckin Forensics advice, to avoid.

They can’t have been all that convinced of their case however as shortly before the trail began they offered Lowe and Reynolds $100,000 each as an out of court settlement (while not admitting any wrongdoing). The plaintiffs chose to have their day in court, a wise decision as the Judge has ruled in their favour to the tune of $2.2 million, nearly $1.75 million of which were punitive damages.

Atlas have said that they intend to appeal, to at least reduce the sum involved. And the phantom pooper? Has still not been caught.

Source: Ars technica & The Verge Image Source: FreeImages

Darrell Jones

Geek Power's answer to Jeremy Clarkson. That's to say he's a sad, middle aged man with a big mouth who's trying to act like he's still in his twenties. he remembers the days of punch cards, paper tape and hard drives the size of toasters with the capacity of the kind of usb stick you might get in a Christmas cracker.