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Rail News: BNSF Railway

BNSF settles genetic-testing lawsuit with BMWE, BLE


Burlington Northern Santa Fe April 6 settled a lawsuit filed by Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes, agreeing to terminate all genetic testing of BMWE- and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers-represented employees.
BNSF also agreed to destroy all blood samples and test records previously compiled from 18 employees, confirm the destroyed materials with BMWE and BLE officials, and not discipline any worker for failure to comply with requests for medical information in connection with previously completed tests. Under settlement terms, the railroad denied violating any law when it adopted and implemented its pilot DNA testing program, and agreed to pay $39,500 in legal fees.
"We’re pleased that we have a settlement," says Richard Russack, BNSF vice president corporate relations.
BMWE Feb. 9 filed suit against BNSF and Sioux City, Iowa-based laboratory Athena Diagnostics in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa to force the railroad to end genetic testing of injured employees. BLE later joined BMWE in its quest to end testing but was not a party to the suit.
BNSF Feb. 12 voluntarily agreed to suspend the testing — designed to identify a genetic cause for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in response to 125 employee claims filed since March 2000 — due, in part, to a temporary restraining order issued by a federal judge the same day.
As part of the settlement, BNSF also agreed to help seek federal legislation limiting the scope of employers’ genetic testing; The railroad is required to initiate written and oral expressions supporting the position to key congressional and Executive Branch officials within 30 days of the agreement’s execution.
"This is a major victory for workers' rights and personal privacy for all working men and women who should not have to fear mandatory genetic testing," said BLE International President Edward Dubroski in a prepared statement.
Still pending for BNSF is a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit also filed Feb. 9 in Iowa’s U.S. District Court claiming the railroad’s genetic testing policy violated workers’ civil rights. Hearings are scheduled for April 26 and 27.