First prosecution under US Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act

26 June 2015

The first trial brought under the federal 2008 Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) has ended in individuals being awarded damages of $2.25 million.

GINA prohibits discrimination against healthy individuals for employment decisions or health insurance purposes on the basis of genetic information alone; it also prevents employers and insurance providers from demanding or using information from genetic tests.

Earlier this week, a federal court awarded massive damages to two warehouse employees from Georgia whose employer had asked them to provide cheek swab DNA samples. Their employer, Atlas Logistics Group Retail Services, was attempting to discover who had been defaecating in the grocery distribution warehouse by comparing DNA from the faecal matter.

However, in the event neither employee’s DNA samples were a match, and they successfully sued their employer using GINA – the first such case to go to trial, although there have been previous unsuccessful attempts to use the legislation.

Whilst the damages awarded by the jury seem seriously disproportionate to the ‘injury’ suffered by the employees, the case is an important one as a demonstration that the law will be enforced in appropriate circumstances.

Nature reports Professor John Conley of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill (editor of Genomics Law Report) as having said: “This is an application of the law that no one thought of in a million years…But the ruling is not controversial. You can't use genetic testing for dismissal purposes”.

 

GINA has no equivalent legal framework in the UK, although genetic testing of individuals without their consent (for example, for paternity analysis) is illegal, and there is a voluntary moratorium on the use of genetic test results for insurance purposes in most cases. It is worth noting that the UK National Health Service system renders concerns over exclusion fr om health insurance coverage less significant than in the US.

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