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OHR Highlights New Expansion of Human Rights Act

Thursday, April 6, 2006
The new categories include protection of “genetic information” and “gender identity and expression.”
(Washington, DC) The Office of Human Rights highlights new categories in the Human Rights Act of 1977: the 17th and 18th categories include protection of "genetic information" and "gender identity and expression."

In legislation enacted by the Council of the District of Columbia amending the Human Rights Act (the Act) and approved by Congress, employers and health insurers are now prohibited from discriminating against an individual on the basis of genetic information (ie DNA which may indicate a persons susceptibility to certain diseases or conditions). No longer will employers be able to request, require, or administer a genetic test to employees or applicants for employment. In addition, employers will no longer be able to seek or obtain genetic information regarding an employee or applicant for employment except by written consent for either (1) determining the existence of a bona fide occupational qualification, (2) investigating a workers compensation or disability claim, or (3) determining an employee's susceptibility of exposure to potentially toxic substances in the workplace.

The new law also prohibits health insurers from requesting or requiring genetic testing or using genetic information as a condition of eligibility for obtaining insurance or for setting premium rates. Any individual who believes they have been discriminated against based on their genetic information may file a claim with the Office of Human Rights if the alleged acts occurred on or after April 5, 2005.

In another amendment to the Act, individuals in the transgender or transsexual community are protected from discrimination in employment, housing, educational institutions, and public accommodations based on their gender identity or expression. The effect of this amendment is to require entities and individuals respect a person's gender identity or expression by treating that individual on the basis of how they want to appear rather than the presumed gender or sex of that individual. Anyone who believes that they have been discriminated on the basis of their gender identity or expression may also file a complaint with the Office of Human Rights, if the alleged act occurred on or after March 8, 2006.