A list of laws passed in the Federal Court in United States of America is preserved in the United States Code (U.S.C.). These laws are aimed at providing safe and fair living conditions for citizens. Among the measures taken by the government to this effect, a recent development is the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). It was enacted in the year 2008 by Congress. The aim is to eliminate using genetic information in employment and health insurance. The terms of this act prevent denial of coverage to healthy individuals and/or charging higher premiums to an individual due to genetic predisposition to an illness or disease that they may develop in the future.
The statement of the law is ‘to prohibit discrimination on the basis of genetic information with respect to health insurance and employment’. Hence, it is primarily aimed at securing health insurance plans and employment without discrimination on the basis of genetic information. It was enacted so that employers would be prohibited from using genetic information of individuals when making promotion, hiring, firing or job placement decisions. Only those employers who have 15 or more employees are covered under GINA.
GINA was termed as the ‘first major new civil rights bill of the new century’ by Senator Ted Kennedy. The bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush on May 21, 2008. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is an agency responsible for enforcement of federal laws against discrimination at the workplace. EEOC issues regulations under GINA Title II in an attempt to eradicate discrimination based on genetic information by employers.
Since it was first enacted in 2008, GINA has been used by many citizens to charge their employers with genetic information based discrimination. It has brought many offenders to trial and justice to numerous victims of discrimination.
The Pamela Fink v. Mxenergy Case
In 2010 a resident of Fairfield, Connecticut – Pamela Fink filed a case against her employer MXenergy (based in Stamford, CT), under GINA. She discovered through genetic testing that she was much more susceptible to developing breast cancer than others due to the presence of a particular gene. To avoid taking chances, she decided to undergo double mastectomy. Her employer – MXenergy drastically changed their behavior towards her after she voluntarily disclosed about the surgery. She had been a dedicated employee for years and her performance was duly recognized and appraised before the disclosure. However, soon after disclosure, she was rebuked for poor performance leading to demotion and ultimately discharge from work.
The Velez et al v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. Case
In 2010 July, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis was sued for $250 million by 12 female employees for sex based discrimination at the workplace. A New York federal jury found the company consistently discriminating, from a period of 2002 – 2007, against thousands of female employees. After 12 women testified, it ordered Novartis to pay $3.3 to the plaintiffs as compensatory damages. The company was charged under the EEOC.