Historic Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act Takes Effect

EEOC Assumes New Area of Jurisdiction to Protect Confidentiality of Genetic Information

WASHINGTON -- In the first legislative expansion of its jurisdiction since passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Saturday will assume responsibility for enforcing Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

GINA, signed into law in May 2008, prohibits discrimination by health insurers and employers based on individuals’ genetic information. Genetic information includes the results of genetic tests to determine whether someone is at increased risk of acquiring a condition (such as some forms of breast cancer) in the future, as well as an individual’s family medical history.“

GINA affirms the principle central to all employment discrimination laws – that all people have the right to be judged according to their ability to do a job, not on stereotypical assumptions,” said Acting EEOC Chair Stuart J. Ishimaru. “No one should be denied a job or the right to be treated fairly in the workplace based on fears that he or she may develop some condition in the future.”

Specifically, the law prohibits the use of genetic information in making employment decisions, restricts the acquisition of genetic information by employers and others, imposes strict confidentiality requirements, and prohibits retaliation against individuals who oppose actions made unlawful by GINA or who participate in proceedings to vindicate rights under the law or aid others in doing so. The same remedies, including compensatory and punitive damages, are available under Title II of GINA as are available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the ADA.

Acting Vice Chair Christine Griffin said, “Title II of GINA is an ideal complement to the ADA Amendments Act. With both laws now effective, American workers are protected if they experience discrimination because of their disability or because of impairments they may develop.”

The EEOC is charged with issuing regulations implementing Title II of GINA. On March 2, 2009, it published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to implement Title II with proposed regulations and received over 40 public comments in response. The final regulations implementing Title II are currently under review by the Office of Management and Budget and will be issued as soon as the review process is concluded.