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Who’s GINA and What Should I Know About Her?

GINA is not a who, but rather a what. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”) was passed by Congress in 2008. GINA makes it illegal for employers with 15 or more employees to discriminate against employees or applicants on the basis of genetic information. Employers cannot lawfully inquire about (1) an individual’s genetic tests; (2) the genetic tests of an individual’s family members; or, (3) the manifestation of a disease or disorder in the family members of such an individual.

At the end of 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) announced in its Strategic Enforcement Plan that genetic discrimination would be a top priority over the next four years. The EEOC stuck to their word – in May, 2013, the EEOC settled its first lawsuit alleging GINA violations. The suit involved a fabrics distributor, Fabricut, Inc., who allegedly violated the Act by asking a woman for her family medical history in a post-offer medical examination. The company refused to hire the applicant after assessing that she had carpal tunnel syndrome, which led to Americans with Disabilities Act violations as well. The suit was settled for $50,000.

Shortly thereafter, the EEOC filed its second suit against The Founders Pavilion, Inc., a nursing and rehabilitation center. According to the EEOC suit, Founders conducted post-offer medical exams of applicants, which were repeated annually if the person was hired. As part of this exam, Founders requested family medical history, which is a form of information prohibited by GINA.

Employers should ensure that their policies related to employee medical information and any conducted medical exams comply with GINA. In addition, it would be wise for employers to update employee handbooks to state that discrimination on the basis of genetic information is prohibited. If you have questions regarding GINA or other employment-related Acts, contact the labor and employment law attorneys at McBrayer.

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This article does not constitute legal advice.

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