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What Is Genetic Information Discrimination?

Many people are familiar with the idea of discrimination based on concepts like race, sexual orientation, gender, or disability. However, the idea of genetic information discrimination is much less commonly understood. Nonetheless, it does occur, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) handles hundreds of claims per year. If you suspect you have been victimized in this manner, it is a good idea to research so that you have a clear picture of what actually constitutes discrimination and what does not.

Defining “Genetic Information”

While the term “genetic information” can be somewhat nebulous, the EEOC defines it as any information relating to an individual’s (or their family members’) genetic test results or predispositions discovered in that manner. Employers may use this information in a discriminatory to exclude people or otherwise insulate themselves from future claims on health insurance or workers’ compensation insurance. For example, office workers with a genetic predisposition toward carpal tunnel syndrome might be denied employment because they would conceivably be more prone to make claims on health insurance, or under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Some might question why family history, rather than individual history, is covered under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), which is the relevant law on this matter. The answer is that one person’s test result for a condition or disease might be a fluke, but a family history can elucidate a pattern. The pattern is what an unethical employer would look for in seeking a reason to discriminate, so the protection against disclosure and discrimination extends to the entire pattern rather than simply to the individual.

Acquiring Genetic Information Is Barred

Unlike with many other potential causes of action for discrimination, genetic information is somewhat unique in that even acquiring this type of information on employees is at best frowned upon, at worst in violation of the law. While someone’s race or gender may be visible to the naked eye, genetic information or sexual orientation is generally not known unless it is made known. If this happens at work, it will be considered unlawful unless it meets one of six exceptions.

Filing A Claim

Unless the acquiring of one’s genetic information meets one or more exceptions, a discrimination claim under GINA would follow much the same path as a claim under any other suit, such as the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The process involves filing a charge with either South Carolina’s Human Affairs Commission or with the EEOC, and then suing in civil court if neither agency decides to take up the case. Just because GINA claims are relatively uncommon does not mean that a plaintiff would have no chance of succeeding with one, so it is generally worth pursuing such a claim if it can be substantiated.

Contact An Experienced Attorney

The sensation of being discriminated against is a feeling that can be discombobulating and leave you unsure of where to turn. When in doubt, a knowledgeable attorney is a good first person to consult. Attorney A. Christopher Potts and his Charleston law firm are happy to sit down with you and try to help answer any questions you may have. Contact our office today to set up a consultation.

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