Friday, August 8, 2008

Discrimination’s New Label?

The ratification of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) may be a welcome sign for many advocates of labor and employment issues. While this may be an addition to the so-called “arsenal of weapons” for those battling discrimination in the workplace, it may also pose a new level of risk for others, especially ordinary citizens, where the new law may impose a new restriction on freedom of some individuals

In the article, “Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act”, posted on July 29, 2008, provides important information on the new discrimination law. The newly signed law “prohibits discrimination based on genetic information with respect to health insurance and employment.

This means that genetic information derived by human genome technology must be protected and prevented from “misuse” by employers and health insurance companies to discriminate anyone.

GINA defines a "genetic information" to include a disease or disorder of an individual’s family member, as well as information revealed in an individual's genetic tests or genetic tests of an individual's family member, other than information about gender or age. It defines a "family member" very broadly, including any dependent, and any first, second, third, or fourth degree relative.

In addition, the law also prohibits retaliation, by making it illegal to discriminate against anyone who opposes violations of the Act. It also requires employers that have genetic information about an employee to maintain that information in a separate confidential medical file, and limits an employer's right to provide genetic information about an employee to anyone else.

A person, who wants to file an employment case under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act case and succeeds in it, can receive damages for lost salary and benefits, as well as emotional distress damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs of litigation.

Like many other federal employment discrimination laws, an individual who has a claim under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act must file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and receive the a "right to sue" before he can file a federal lawsuit.

Although the new law may discourage misuse of genetic information on discrimination, it bothers me to think that the same information could be used for other purposes that might threaten our civil rights.

This time, is legislation necessary to safeguard our rights?