Background Genetic Information Discrimination
According to a release by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), three southern California seed and fertilizer providers will pay $187,500 to settle a genetic information and disability discrimination lawsuit. The suit was filed by the EEOC on behalf of a class of job applicants who were subjected to illegal medical exams and family medical history inquiries.
The EEOC contended that the agricultural companies (All Star Seed, Inc., La Valle Sabbia and Abatti), which operated as a single employer, required job applicants to undergo physical exams and fill out health questionnaires as a condition of employment that violates federal laws. The EEOC charged that the questionnaires contained improper inquiries about the applicants' medical conditions and family medical histories, also known as genetic information.
One applicant was denied hire as a result of a physical examination and drug test which solicited disability-related information and family medical history unrelated to the job. After a prior medical condition was revealed, the applicant was denied hire due to his perceived disability even though the prior condition had no correlation to the work he was currently successfully performing. Three other class members experienced similar inquiries, although they were ultimately hired. According to EEOC allegations, the the companies also failed to adequately maintain the confidentiality of the medical and genetic information, permitting such information to be unlawfully commingled with non-confidential personnel files.
The EEOC filed suit against the companies in 2013 in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The suit alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA).
The parties entered into a four-year consent decree to resolve the suit, prohibiting the companies from:
- subjecting job applicants and employees to pre-offer medical examinations;
- making inquiries into medical conditions that are not job-related;
- inquiring about genetic information;
- and failing to maintain the confidentiality of medical information by applicants and employees.
The four affected individuals will receive the majority of the monetary relief obtained, and a smaller class fund will be established for unidentified class members at the discretion of the EEOC. The companies also agreed to ensure that the companies' policies and procedures are revised to comply with the ADA and GINA, and that the policies are available in both English and Spanish. The companies' further agreed to provide bi-annual training to all of the companies' managers, supervisors and leads with respect to the policies, procedures and legal responsibilities and requirements under the ADA and GINA. Managers and supervisors will also be held accountable in their performance evaluations for any failure to comply with anti-discrimination policies.
“The law with respect to genetic information is relatively new, and this is one of the first cases resolved in litigation by the EEOC in this district,” said Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC's Los Angeles District Office. “We commend All Star Seed, La Valle Sabbia and Abatti for making the necessary changes to comply with the federal anti-discrimination laws on both genetic information and disability. Employers need to familiarize themselves on the prohibitions with respect to pre-employment inquiries and maintaining the confidentiality of medical information.”
One of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) is for the agency to address emerging and developing issues in equal employment law, including issues involving the ADA and pregnancy-related limitations, among other possible issues. If you have questions about genetic information discrimination, or any of California's discrimination laws, don't hesitate to contact leading California employment lawyers from Kingsley & Kingsley. Take advantage of a free initial consultation to discuss your case by calling us toll-free at (888) 500-8469or clicking here to contact us.