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Workplace Mystery, DNA Testing, and GINA

The 'devious defecator' case in Atlanta is testing the protections of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, the New York Times reports.

After someone kept on leaving piles of human feces in a warehouse storing goods bound for grocery stores, Atlas Logistics Group Retail Services narrowed in on two employees whose work schedules would have enabled them to leave those stool samples behind. The company then asked the two men for DNA samples to match to the fecal samples. Fearing for their jobs, the men complied, the Times notes.

While both men were cleared — the 'devious defecator' has not been identified — and kept their jobs, they have sued Atlas under GINA, saying that the law prevents employers from requesting their employees' genetic material. The men also say they were mocked by coworkers and humiliated, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes.

Atlas' lawyer argued that the act was intended to prevent discrimination based on employees' genetic risk of disease and that the company wasn't seeking information related to disease genes, the Times says.

However, Amy Totenberg, the federal district judge in Atlanta, ruled that "a genetic test is a genetic test is a genetic test" no matter the intent for its use. The case is to go to trial this month to determine damages.

"It's really a bizarre case," Georgetown's Lawrence Gostin tells the Times. "But beyond the comical, it touches on some quite serious issues."

"Anyone in the future thinking about using a genetic test in ways that can embarrass or harm an individual will have to confront the fact that it violates federal law," he adds.