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Warehouse fined $2.2 million after testing employee DNA to catch a rogue pooper

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An Atlanta warehouse overstepped the bounds of the law in its quest to discover a mystery pooper, according to a ruling by a Federal circuit court in Atlanta this week. The case began when the warehouse, run by Atlas Logistics Group, began finding piles of excrement in the public workspace, and was forced to investigate who might be behind the string of mysterious crappings. Based on the scene of the crime, the company suspected an inside job, but it had no firm evidence aside from the poop itself.

That's where Atlas got into trouble. Supervisors forced two workers, named Dennis Reynolds and Jack Lowe, to submit to cheek swabbing, comparing their DNA to the DNA found in the poop. Both men were exonerated by the test, but it raised the thorny question of whether Atlas had the right to demand a test in the first place. Ultimately, the court ruled that the company had overstepped, and awarded Reynolds and Lowe $2.2 million, including nearly $1.75 million in punitive damages. Atlas has vowed to appeal the ruling and pare down the final sum.

It's a rare issue, but an increasingly relevant one as DNA testing grows cheaper and employers find more and more ways to monitor workers. There are extensive rules about law enforcement collection of DNA, but this is the first firm precedent protecting workers against employer-mandated testing. In this case, it was an issue of linking employees to misconduct, but it's easy to imagine similar tests being used as a basis for genetic discrimination as the science develops further. But as long as this ruling holds up, employees will be legally protected if any employers attempt such a scheme.