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EEOC settles first genetic information discrimination case

A spokesperson from the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that the agency's first successful settlement under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act marks the start of an effort for increased enforcement of the 2009 law.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination act, also known as GINA, provides protections for employees or job applicants who are questioned about family medical history or other genetic information. Employers are prohibited from discriminating based on genetic information under GINA, which means that they cannot make employment decisions based on a perceived disability or a perceived potential future disability.

The first case that was settled involved a prospective employee who was not hired because of concerns about carpal tunnel syndrome after she filled out a medical history questionnaire. An examination proved that she did not suffer from the condition, but she was denied employment nonetheless. The employer agreed to a $50,000 settlement in that case.

More recently, the EEOC has filed a class action lawsuit regarding an illegal medical history questionnaire given to employees at a nursing home. In this case, the EEOC says that the nursing home was denying employment to women who were pregnant or who may become pregnant as well as others who had a perceived disability.

As these cases make clear, GINA has some territory in common with the Americans with Disabilities Act which protects employees from discrimination if they have a disability. GINA focuses more on information gathering than on the disability itself, since some employers may discriminate if they believe it is likely that an employee will become ill.

Source: Thomson Reuters News & Insight, "EEOC lawsuits signal focus on genetics law," Amanda Becker, May 20, 2013.

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