In May 2013, actress Angelina Jolie announced that she underwent a preventive double mastectomy after learning through genetic testing that she carries a genetic mutation (BRCA1), which significantly increases her risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The very same month, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought the first lawsuits it ever filed alleging genetic discrimination under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).
This relatively new federal law, which was passed in 2008, prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against applicants or employees because of their genetic information. Massachusetts’ anti-discrimination law, which applies to employers with six or more employees, also prohibits discrimination on the basis of genetic information. Genetic information includes, for instance, information about an individual’s genetic tests and the genetic tests of family members, as well as information related to an individual’s family medical history. This means that employers cannot request genetic information of applicants or employees and cannot use genetic information as a basis for employment decisions such as hiring, firing, pay, promotion, and other terms or conditions of employment.
GINA protects individuals, like Jolie, from being discriminated against because an employer believes they are at an increased risk of developing certain medical conditions, such as cancer. Jolie’s genetic information, however, can be found in publicly available sources, which falls within one of GINA’s narrow exceptions.
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