Search :
DNA on Trial

by Catherine Gianaro


Intro  |  High court challenge  |  Who should know — and how much? |  
A societal question



Genetics may have opened the doors to new forms of discrimination. Is there a legal defense? That may depend on the state in which you live.

Imagine not getting a job solely because you carry a gene that causes Alzheimer’s or because your DNA increases your chances of getting cancer 30 years from now.

As genetics advances the limits of science, it also pushes the boundaries of law and ethics. And genetics may provide the means for an entirely new form of discrimination.

“Once blood and urine samples are taken for an employment physical, the applicant’s genetic material is available,” said Marisa Anne Pagnattaro, a University of Georgia assistant professor of legal studies. “Employers potentially could misuse that sample and then make up some other reason for rescinding the offer.”

Pagnattaro explores the legal issues stirred up by new genetic technologies, such as genetic screening. In groundbreaking research, she has examined and compared current state and federal laws concerning genetic discrimination.

“There wasn’t a clear sense of what’s available across the country,” she said, “or whether some of the existing federal laws could be used in a genetic context.”

Pagnattaro focused on laws that protect people against genetic discrimination in the workplace. Her findings were published in the Fall 2001 issue of American Business Law Journal.

She first investigated each state’s laws to determine what employee protection was available and what could be interpreted to argue a genetic discrimination case.

“They’re all over the board,” she said, noting that protection under the law varies in focus and scope from state to state.

In general, Georgia law offers little protection for employees and there is currently no state law recourse against genetic discrimination, she said. In contrast, other states, such as New Jersey, New York and California, have laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace based on genetic information and even restrict the gathering of genetic information.

Under federal statutes Pagnattaro found little protection available.

“There’s no comprehensive federal law that would protect an employee or potential employee in a genetic discrimination case,” she said. “However, I think some argument could be made under the Americans with Disabilities Act, although the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Chevron vs. Echazabal raises more questions and makes legislation all the more necessary.”



Intro  |  High court challenge  |  Who should know — and how much? |  
A societal question

Research Communications, Office of the VP for Research, UGA
For comments or for information please e-mail the editor:
To contact the webmaster please email: