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What Is Genetic Information Discrimination?

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

While most people tend to think of discrimination in terms of race, gender, disability, ethnicity, and age, another category exists that many people are unaware of entirely: genetic information. Not only do civil rights laws protect against discrimination on the basis of a person's genetic information, there are strong prohibitions against employers even conducting genetic testing on their employees.

A person's genetic information can include information that may not necessarily reflect a disability, but rather a personal trait, medical information, or other characteristics. When an employment action is taken that is based upon a person's genetic information, like a decision based upon race, it will be considered impermissible. The EEOC advises that, under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), employment decisions based on genetic information are never permissible because genetic information is 'not relevant to an individual's current ability to work.'

What Does Genetic Information Discrimination Look Like?

Generally, discrimination can be difficult to detect if there are no overtly discriminatory statements or actions taken against a person. In the genetic information context, for example, a manager's statement that an employee will not be promoted, or an applicant hired, because of something contained in a DNA, or other genetic, test would likely qualify as an overtly discriminatory statement. Even just requesting medical histories from applicants will usually be considered illegal under GINA.

However, like many other forms of discrimination, genetic information discrimination can happen behind closed doors. Despite the broad protections, proving a claim is no simple task. Unless it can be shown clearly that your employer knew the genetic information, and considered it in reaching their decision, it may difficult to prevail on a claim. The most common example occurs when an employer considers medical information acquired via a Google search, or an FMLA or ADA request, in deciding whether to not hire, not promote, demote, or discipline, that individual.

The Future of Genetic Information Discrimination

In the science fiction fantasy world, genetic information is used to determine nearly every aspect of a person's life. Though our world isn't at that point, the type of genetic information that is available via the currently available tests does provide a level of invasiveness that could inform an employer's decisions.

Fortunately, the laws in the real world provide remedies for employees and applicants that face this form of discrimination. If you believe that you've been discriminated against due to your genetic information, contacting a civil rights or employment attorney for a consultation could prove helpful.

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