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The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act

Technology is ever-evolving. As it changes, the law must change with it. This is the major reason why the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) was passed in 2008. Before GINA’s passage, employers and others in authority in a person’s life were prohibited from discriminating on bases like race, gender, and nationality. But if they wound up privy to an individual’s family history and genetic information, there was nothing stopping them from discriminating on that basis. Since GINA’s passage, that aspect of a person’s life is protected as well.

What Is Genetic Discrimination?

Genetic discrimination is defined as using a person’s genetic markers as a pretext to deny them employment or any other benefit that they might otherwise be able to obtain. Genetic markers pinpoint physical characteristics about humans, and if an employer is privy to a potential hire’s genetic history, they may find reason to deny them a job based on that history. For example, a genetic test that displays a family history of the genetic marker for Marfan’s syndrome or Huntington’s disease might lead an employer to decline hiring the person, as they might fear heightened medical bills in the future.

Title II of GINA explicitly denies employers the right to discriminate based on an employee or applicant’s genetic information. This also applies to employment-based organizations, such as labor unions, employment agencies and the like. They are also barred from “requesting, requiring, or seeking to purchase” genetic information, as historically, there was a market for such information, especially in high-profile jobs. Basically, if your employer seeks your genetic information for any reason that is not legitimately related to your ability to perform your job, it can be a potential red flag.

Harassment Is Punished

Not only is discrimination based on genetic information actionable, harassment based on the same score is grounds for complaint under GINA. While simple teasing does not necessarily rise to the level of harassment, actions beyond this certainly can. If, for example, a person’s coworkers learn that they have Tay-Sachs disease, this can lead to insults or poor treatment based on perceived weakness, as well as the potential for race or ethnicity-based harassment if someone makes the connection between the condition and a specific subset of people.

It may feel like tattling to inform your superiors about harassment of this type, especially since it is perhaps less immediate than mistreatment based on, say, race. But harassment is harassment, and if it impacts your ability to do your job or results in a hostile work environment (which in turn would affect your ability to do your job), then it must be dealt with appropriately. You are also protected under GINA if your employer decides to retaliate by firing or demoting you. You have the right to stand up for yourself.

Seek Experienced Legal Help Today

No matter the characteristic, it is never acceptable to discriminate against or harass someone based on their individual identity, and genetic information sometimes gets overlooked as a basis under which to file a complaint. If you have questions about what GINA covers, or are unsure about your case, contacting an attorney is a good idea. Attorney A. Christopher Potts has experience with these types of cases, and is happy to try and help you with yours. Contact Hitchcock & Potts today to schedule an appointment.

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