Can You Be Fired for Your Genes?

Pamela Fink at her home in Fairfield, Conn., on April 28, 2010. Fink says she was fired after she tested positive for a breast-cancer gene and had a double mastectomy as a preventative measure

In 2010, Pamela Fink, an employee of a Connecticut energy company, made a new kind of discrimination claim: she charged that she had been fired because she carries genes that predispose her to cancer. Fink quickly became the public face for the cutting edge of civil rights: genetic discrimination.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which was passed out of concern for just such cases in the wake of huge advances in genetics testing, took effect in late 2009. GINA, as it is known, makes it illegal for employers to fire or refuse to hire workers based on their “genetic information” — including genetic tests and family history of disease. GINA doesn’t just apply to employers: health-insurance companies can be sued for using genetic information to set rates or even just for investigating people’s genes.

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