The case of the warehouse mystery pooper

Suppose you owned a warehouse that serves as a distribution hub for grocery stores, and you find that every so often, someone is pooping in your warehouse. Not only is that insulting and obnoxious, but it also has the potential to make a lot of people very sick. You take the shift schedule, and you correlate it with the times the mystery pooper has struck. You find that there are two employees who had the opportunity to do the dastardly deed.

You might reason something like this : Poop has human DNA in it. Why not tell the employees they have to submit buccal swabs for testing if they want to keep their jobs? After all, if they weren’t the ones pooping all over the place, the test will exonerate them. Seems reasonable, yes?

Turns out, no. This sort of practice is prohibited under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). The warehouse operator argued, unsuccessfully, that the law only applies to genetic tests that could reveal health information. The US District Court found otherwise, and the grad jury awarded damages of $250,000 and $225,000 to each of the employees. Moreover, the grand jury was asked,

Do you find from a preponderance of the evidence that Atlas Logistic Group Retail Services (Atlanta), LLC acted with malice or with reckless indifference to the Plaintiffs’ federally protected rights such that punitive damages should be assessed against them?

They concluded that yes, the employer had acted with malice or reckless indifference to federally protected rights, and levied $1.75 million in punitive damages. This is probably worth pondering before you go around playing CSI without a badge and a warrant.

But of course, what you are really wondering is if the DNA tests unmasked the mystery pooper. Turns out, no. If either of the two employees were responsible, they were enterprising enough not to use their own poop.

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Russell Neches

A microbiology graduate student at UC Davis, working with Jonathan Eisen @phylogenomics . Studies evolution & ecology. Advocate of Open Hardware & Open Access.