Connecticut Woman Alleges Genetic Discrimination at Work

April 30, 2010

A woman who had a voluntary double mastectomy after genetic testing is alleging her employer eliminated her job after learning she carried a gene implicated in breast cancer.

Pamela Fink, 39, said in discrimination complaints that her bosses at natural gas and electric supplier MXenergy gave her glowing evaluations for years, but targeted, demoted and eventually dismissed her after she told them of the genetic test results.

Her complaints, filed Tuesday with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission and Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, are among the first known to be filed nationwide based on the federal Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

The law, which went into effect in November, prohibits discrimination by employers and health insurers based on a person’s genetic information. Fink says in her case, that information included results showing she carried the hereditary BRCA2 gene linked to many breast cancers.

“What MXenergy did by firing her because of a positive genetic test is wrong and it’s illegal,” said her attorney, Gary Phelan.

Company spokesman Todd Miller said MXenergy “emphatically and categorically” denies the allegations, but has a policy not to discuss personnel matters and will not comment further.

Fink was the public relations director for MXenergy from 2006 until her dismissal in March.

She said Tuesday that genetic tests that she and her two sisters had done in 2004 at Yale Cancer Center showed all three carried the specific gene predisposing them to breast cancer.

Both sisters developed breast cancer, but survived with treatment. After several biopsies and frightening false alarms, Fink opted for a preventative double mastectomy last year.

Feeling comfortable in what she described as a supportive work environment, she told her bosses at MXenergy about her genetic tests and the surgery, she said.

“I’d had great reviews, I had merit increases, I had bonuses. I really felt it was a place where I could be comfortable and confident and be honest with them, and that was a mistake,” she said Wednesday.

She said in her complaint that MXenergy hired a consultant for her work while she was recovering from her first surgery, but that person became her boss when she returned and the company quickly took away her office and most of her duties.

She said her job was eliminated — the only one in her department — and she was escorted out in March, about six weeks after she returned from her second surgery.

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