When the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA) was signed into law by President Bush in 2008, Senator Kennedy called it “The first major new civil rights bill of the century.” Five years later, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced it had settled the first case claiming genetic discrimination under GINA for $50,000.
Wait, what is GINA about again? GINA provides protection against genetic discrimination in two broad categories: Employment and Health Insurance. It states that genetic information cannot be used to make hiring decisions, as a requirement of employment, or to to make firing or promotion decisions. As far as insurance, it provides protections within group and individual plans. Insurers cannot raise or lower premiums based on genetic information, nor can they deny coverage. This includes only health insurance – life insurance and long term care insurance are not covered under GINA. More about GINA can be found here and here.
The idea behind GINA is that with more protections, people will be more comfortable to take advantage of some of the opportunities genetic testing might have to offer, and to provide people recourse if they believe they are being treated unfairly. This first case is an example of the need for this law, and for employers to become more educated about the law and what one can and cannot ask as a condition of employment.