District Court for the Northern District of Georgia rules on privacy rights under the Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act (Lowe v. Atlas Logistics Group Retail Services LLC)

The Policy

What it does

Awards plaintiffs $2.2 million in compensatory and punitive damages in the first case interpreting the scope of genetic privacy under GINA.

Synopsis

Lowe v. Atlas Logistics Group Retail Services LLC, 102 F.Supp.3d 1360 (N.D. Ga. 2015) is the first case defining the scope of genetic privacy afforded to employees under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

GINA defines genetic information as “information about (i) such individual’s genetic tests, (ii) the genetic tests of family members of such individual, and (iii) the manifestation of a disease or disorder in family members of such individual.” The statute protects employees against genetic testing, defined as “an analysis of human DNA, RNA, chromosomes, proteins, or metabolites, that detects genotypes, mutations, or chromosomal changes,” done or required by employers.

The issue presented was whether the employer’s obtaining DNA from the employees to identify the source of feces left in the workplace violated GINA.

The Court ruled in favor of the employees. The holdings of the court included:

  • that the DNA analysis requested by Atlas qualified as a genetic test constituting a request for genetic information from employees, and was deemed a violation of GINA.
  • upholding a broad definition of genetic information that “errs on the side of prohibiting employer-mandated or requested DNA testing.”
  • the right to privacy was enumerated in the statute’s unambiguous language, and was reinforced by clear evidence of legislative intent.

Context

The Science

Science Synopsis

New sequencing technology is making it progressively easier to learn about a person’s genetic makeup. Genetic testing can be used to identify changes or differences in a person’s chromosomes, genes, proteins or metabolites, for purposes of human identification, as it was in this case, or for determining a person’s propensity for disease. There are thousands of available “genetics tests” and more are constantly being developed. Depending upon the type of genetic test utilized, different kinds of information about an individual may be obtained.

The type of genetic test used in this case examines sections of the genome called Short Tandem Repeats (STR).  This type of test is routinely used in law enforcement to compare an unknown sample containing DNA, such as evidence gathered from a crime scene, to a set of known samples, either contained in a DNA data base or obtained from specifically identified individuals.  Based on current technology, this type of test can only be used  for purposes of human identification, but does not reveal propensity for disease or other aspects of a persons genetic makeup. This process generally involves the sequencing of 13 specific loci in DNA, which the FBI has identified as most accurate in determining identity. Use of these 13 locations vastly decreases the likelihood of a duplicate profile within the population, to odds of less than 1 in 800 trillion people.