By Joanne Lin, Michelle Richardson, and Deborah J. Vagins of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office
A new law finally enacted today after a dozen years of fighting will protect us from discrimination based on our genes – the genes which may determine whether or not we may be destined to fall ill. But its passage also may add a little irony to our nation’s workplace protections. The Genetic Information Discrimination Act (GINA) that President Bush just signed says employers will be barred from discriminating against workers based on their genetic predispositions for epilepsy, diabetes, cancer, coronary heart disease, and other medical conditions.
But unless Congress passes and he signs the pending Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Restoration Act, employers will NOT be barred from discriminating against workers who, in fact, have and manifest those very health conditions. The now nearly 18-year-old ADA has been watered down by the Supreme Court. The first President Bush enacted protections with bipartisan support.
And there’s more. Even with GINA encouraging us to take charge of our health and participate in scientific research without fear, our friends who are living and working with disabilities will still have little recourse against wage related discrimination.
Adding insult to injury, last year, the Supreme Court also severely curtailed the ability of workers to bring timely pay discrimination claims. Without Congress passing and the president signing the bill to fix this wrong, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, workers who are being paid less because of their disabilities will have little recourse. Without this legislation, it will remain virtually impossible for employees with disabilities to bring any wage discrimination claims under the current or revised ADA.
Employees who have disabilities today deserve the same protections as those who might have disabilities tomorrow. And all workers who have been discriminated against deserve their fair day in court. Let’s hope Congress and the president won’t take another decade to fully protect workers with disabilities.