Evidence of genetic discrimination overseas

30.31 It appears that little use has been made to date of genetic information in employment in Europe, including the United Kingdom.[18] By contrast, the United States has a relatively long history of using genetic information in the workplace, including several well-publicised and controversial cases of genetic testing by employers.

30.32 In 2002, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reached a mediated settlement with Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company for US$2.2 million. The EEOC alleged that the company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990 (US) by genetically testing, or seeking to test, 36 of its employees without their knowledge or consent. The genetic test was part of a comprehensive diagnostic medical examination that the company required of certain employees who had filed claims or internal reports of work-related carpal tunnel syndrome injuries. The case is the first EEOC litigation challenging genetic testing under that Act.[19]

30.33 In another case, the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, a government-funded research institution, tested clerical and administrative employees for syphilis, pregnancy and the sickle cell trait during routine mandatory medical examinations. Certain employees brought an action against their employer alleging that the genetic testing was conducted without the employees’ knowledge or consent and that the testing was not relevant to the jobs the employees had been hired to perform. The practices were successfully challenged under privacy legislation although the complaint under the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990 (US) was dismissed on a range of grounds, including that no job-related action was taken against the plaintiffs as a result of the test.[20]

[18] Human Genetics Commission, Inside Information: Balancing Interests in the Use of Personal Genetic Data (2002), London.

[19] Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (US), EEOC and BNSF Settle Genetic Testing Case under Americans with Disabilities Act, Press Release, <www.eeoc.gov/press>, 29 July 2002.

[20] P Miller, ‘Is There a Pink Slip in My Genes? Genetic Discrimination in the Workplace’ (2000) 3 Journal of Health Care Law & Policy 225, 252–253.