Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Angelina Jolie and Employment Law

By now, you've probably already heard about the biggest news in the world for the past day or so . . . Angelina Jolie's double masectomy. Why an apparently uneventful preventive surgery on an actress is the number one story in the world is a riddle I have yet to solve. I have, however, nailed down an employment law tie-in!

You can't spell Angelina without GINA (if you rearrange some letters)! The key here is the reason Ms. Jolie had the operation:
[T]he truth is I carry a "faulty" gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases my risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. My doctors estimated that I had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, although the risk is different in the case of each woman. Only a fraction of breast cancers result from an inherited gene mutation. Those with a defect in BRCA1 have a 65 percent risk of getting it, on average.
Ms. Jolie may not realize it yet, but she just became the poster-child for GINA, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act!

This is a great example of the reason Congress passed GINA. Genetic testing has gotten to a point where we can predict, with farely high probability, the chances of contracting certain major diseases. That is why GINA generally prohibits employers from conducting genetic testing, requesting genetic information, and discriminating on the basis of genetic information.

An unscrupulous employer may misuse such information to only hire people who are "low risk" in terms of insurance costs and availability for work. GINA outlaws that.

In a related story, the EEOC just settled its first GINA lawsuit.

Image: Public domain clip art from wpclipart.com.