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California Employment Law Blog

New California Law Prohibits Discrimination Based on Genetic Information

Posted in Discrimination, FEHA, New and Proposed Laws and Legislation

The number of protected classes under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), Cal. Gov’t Code § 12900 et seq., has risen by one. The FEHA, together with the Unruh Civil Rights Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 51, currently prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodation, and services provided by business establishments on the basis of various personal characteristics such as sex, race, color, national origin, religion, and disability. Additional protections have been added over time to include within the purview of these anti-discrimination statutes medical condition, marital status, and sexual orientation. Earlier this month, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 559 (“SB 559”) (pdf), which adds genetic discrimination to the list of prohibited practices in California. “Genetic information” is defined by the bill as (1) the individual’s genetic tests; (2) the genetic tests of family members of the individual; and (3) the manifestation of a disease or disorder in family members of the individual. The bill’s proponents insist that because many genetic disorders are associated with particular racial, social, or ethnic groups, the new law will prevent genetic information from being used to stigmatize or unfairly discriminate against these groups. SB 559 augments the federal Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-233, whose range of protections was deemed by the California Legislature to be “incomplete for Californians.” SB 559, § 1(j). The practical effect of the law on employers remains to be seen, but for now we note that SB 559 touches not only the areas of housing and employment generally, but also licensing boards, life insurance coverage, and state-administered and funded programs.