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What Is Genetic Discrimination?

Genetic Information Discrimination

Under Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), employers and other covered entities (i.e. labor organizations, apprenticeship programs, employment agencies, etc.) are prohibited from discriminating against an employee or applicant because of their genetic information. It is also illegal to:

  • Use genetic information in hiring, firing, benefits, pay, promotions, layoff, and/or any other employment decisions
  • Request, require the submission of, or purchase an employee’s genetic information
  • Try to bypass the strict limits on the disclosure of genetic information
  • Harass a person because of their genetic information
  • Retaliate against a person who files a genetic discrimination suit

What Is Genetic Information?

Genetic information refers to data and information concerning a person’s genetic tests and/or the genetic tests of that person’s family members. Genetic information can also include information concerning:

  • A person’s family medical history
  • A person’s request for or receipt of genetic services
  • A person’s participation in clinical services or research regarding genetic services
  • The genetic information of a person’s child, fetus, or embryo

Examples of Genetic Information Discrimination

Here are some examples of ways in which a person can be discriminated against because of their genetic information:

  • Joe is a local firefighter, and he has a rare gene for a syndrome that can cause sudden cardiac arrest and/or death. When Joe tries to switch his group insurance plan during the open enrollment, the new provider refuses to cover him.
  • Jane was up for a promotion at her company, but during the interview process, her employer learned she was the primary caretaker of her mother who has Huntington’s disease. This disease has a 50% chance of developing within a child if one parent is gene-positive, and because of this information as well as Jane’s family history, they decided to forgo her promotion; they also denied her Family and Leave Act (FMLA) request.
  • Bob was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and took time off from work (as a radiologist tech) to undergo treatment and recover. When he returned to work, his boss said Bob would have to undergo a medical examination to ensure he was fit to return to work, and if he refused to submit to testing, he would be let go. Bob learned that his employer was conducting genetic tests on employees (without their consent) to identify a genetic predisposition to cancer as a possible workers’ compensation claim defense.

Can an Employer Legally Acquire Genetic Information?

As we mentioned, it is illegal to request or purchase another person’s genetic information. However, in some scenarios, a covered entity may discover someone’s genetic information lawfully. Here are some of the ways that acquiring genetic information wouldn’t be unlawful.

  • A covered entity or employer inadvertently acquires the information. For instance, your boss may overhear a conversation you have concerning a family member’s illness (like in the previous example with Jane).
  • A person’s genetic information is obtained via a health or genetic service offered by that person’s employer voluntarily. For instance, if your employer offers a wellness program that you can take advantage of on a voluntary basis, they may learn your genetic information. However, acquiring genetic information in this way is only permissible if certain specific requirements are met. It is also still illegal to discriminate against the employee because of the genetic information that is learned.
  • A person’s genetic information can be acquired through publicly and commercially available documents. However, employers and covered entities cannot search these documents with the sole purpose being finding genetic information or accessing sources where genetic information can be acquired. For instance, newspapers are public documents, and an obituary of a family member may contain details of the illness they fought.
  • A person’s genetic information can be acquired through genetic monitoring programs. Certain industries have genetic monitoring programs that monitor the effects of toxic substances that employees are exposed to in the workplace because it is required by law. Even if it is not required by law, some employers may still conduct genetic monitoring where your genetic information can be discovered; however, in those cases, the monitoring should be entered into voluntarily and should have carefully defined conditions.
  • A person’s genetic information can be acquired by employers who collect employees’ DNA for law enforcement purposes like a forensic lab or to identify human remains. However, the DNA collected should only be used for the analysis of DNA markers and quality control as it relates to the detection of sample contamination.

Contact Our Firm

If you are facing discrimination because of your genetic information, you can trust our firm to help you. Known for providing high-quality and aggressive legal counsel, we take the violation of our client’s rights personally. Backed by over two decades of experience, the Law Office of Steven Fine is equipped to help you protect your rights and take legal action if needed. Our attorney has an understanding of the laws that govern civil rights cases and is dedicated to handling a wide range of civil rights cases throughout Chicago.

Once you retain our services, we can help you:

  • Determine if your civil rights or liberties have been violated
  • Understand your legal rights and options
  • Collect evidence concerning how you were discriminated against and/or harassed
  • Investigate how your genetic information was acquired
  • Build a solid case

Get the legal counsel you need and deserve by scheduling an appointment today. Call (312) 436-0638 or reach out online.