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Genetic Discrimination Law to Undergo First Major Test

A woman who filed a complaint last month with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will be one of the first to test a new law banning discrimination based on genetic information. The woman, Pamela Fink, claims she was wrongfully terminated after she disclosed to her employers that she tested positive for a gene thought to predispose one to certain breast cancers. 

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act went into effect last fall and some 80 complaints have been filed since, but this case could be the first one that alleges wrongful termination based on genetic discrimination. The law prohibits companies and health insurers from requiring employees to undergo genetic testing, from asking employees to disclose genetic information, or from using genetic information against employees.

Pamela Fink had a genetic test to see if she had the gene linked to breast cancer after one of her sisters became ill with the disease. She found she had the gene. After her other sister also contracted breast cancer, Fink decided to undergo a preventative double mastectomy. Fink had felt comfortable with her supervisors and felt she could disclose her genetic test results and the reason for her surgeries. She feels that the information was ultimately used against her, however. She claims that when she returned from her surgeries, she was demoted and gradually had responsibilities taken from her, until she was eventually fired.

Fink contends that her employer, MXenergy, illegally fired her for her genetics. Fink was the director of public relations for the natural gas and electricity supplier and says she was given glowing performance reviews while she was there, but everything inexplicably changed after her surgeries.

Fink's lawyer believes that if Fink loses her case it could discourage other workers from undertaking genetic testing or having preventative surgeries or treatments based on the results of those tests.

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