The University Record, September 25, 2000

Miller: No employer has the right to see your genotype along with your resume

By Rebecca A. Doyle

“How society protects against the misuse of genetic information will be important,” said Paul Miller. “There will be many people who will be reluctant to submit to any genetic testing that could identify vulnerability to genetic disease.”

Miller, commissioner for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), spoke on “Is There a Pink Slip in My Genes? Genetic Discrimination in the Workplace” as part of the pre-conference symposium on genetics in public health.

“Genetic discrimination is an issue that interests me greatly, both professionally and personally,” Miller said. “Dwarfism has affected every aspect of my life.”

Miller recognized that many people are concerned that if their employers find out that they carry a genetic anomaly, they might be discriminated against in their jobs or even fired. But he also said that current protections under the EEOC do address the issue and can protect against that.

“All anti-discrimination law presently requires that an employee is selected based on the ability to do the job rather than on fears and stereotypes about age, race, religion, and so on,” Miller said.

“Should employers be able to consider genetic predispositions as a factor? And if not, how do we protect against that?”

The Americans With Disability Act (ADA) does not identify any medical condition for protection against discrimination, Miller continued. Rather, the ADA prohibits employment discrimination against any individual whose disability falls into one of three categories:

  • One or more physical or mental impairments that limit a major life activity,

  • A record (or past history) of one or more physical or mental impairments that limit a major life activity,

  • A person who is regarded as having one or more physical or mental impairments that limit a major life activity.

    The third category, he said, is where he would place genetic predisposition to disease or impairment. But there have been no tests of ADA rulings on genetic predisposition in either state or federal court that have been published, he said.

    Miller told the audience that President Clinton’s executive order prohibiting the government from using genetic information in making hiring decisions was a good decision, but pointed out that it applies only to federal employees, since it was not a legislative decision.

    “Public health people should be aware of discriminatory law because they come into contact with people who have faced this discrimination,” Miller said. He warned public health professionals that there is a 180-day statute of limitations for filing a court case that claims discrimination based on genetic information, one of the shortest time limitations.

    “A genotype is no substitute for good qualifications,” Miller said. “No employer should ever be able to review your genetic records along with your resume.”

    Miller concluded by saying that genes themselves are not bad or good, but that society has given a negative value to deafness, dwarfism, mental retardation and other conditions. He expressed concern that society might also assign negative values to certain other genetic markers that “have no affect on the ability to do a good job.”

    “There needs to be adequate protection to ensure that this new science will not be misused or abused,” he said, urging public health educators and professionals to learn more and become involved in decisions surrounding genetic research, testing and policy.

    “You are the Christopher Columbuses who will start on this new journey around the world.”