EEOC Targets Illegal Medical History Inquiries

Nov 17 2014 - Discrimination, Hiring, Privacy - Gail Cecchettini Whaley

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently settled a charge alleging that a class of job applicants was subjected to illegal medical exams and family medical history inquiries. The employer will pay $187,500 to settle the lawsuit.

The EEOC brought charges against a Southern California seed and fertilizer company on behalf of a class of job applicants. According to the EEOC, the employer required job applicants to undergo physical exams and fill out health questionnaires as a condition of employment; the questionnaires contained improper inquiries about the applicants’ medical conditions and family medical histories, also known as genetic information.

One temporary worker was allegedly denied a job after disclosing medical history. The individual began working pending results of a physical exam and drug test that also sought disability-related information and family medical history that, according to the EEOC, were unrelated to the job. As a result, the applicant disclosed a prior medical condition, one shared by others in his family.

The EEOC alleged that the applicant was then denied employment due to his perceived disability, even though the prior condition had no correlation to the job. The EEOC also alleged that the companies failed to adequately maintain the confidentiality of the medical and genetic information, permitting such information to be unlawfully commingled with non-confidential personnel files.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA). The EEOC filed brought lawsuits against the employer in a federal district court in California. In addition to the monetary settlement, the employer also agreed to:

  • Ensure that the employer’s policies and procedures are revised to comply with the ADA and GINA
  • Provide the policies in both English and Spanish
  • Provide bi-annual training to all of the employer’s managers, supervisors and leads regarding the requirements of the ADA and GINA
  • Hold managers and supervisors accountable in their performance evaluations for any failure to comply with anti-discrimination policies.

The law in this area is “relatively new;” this is one of the first cases resolved in litigation by the EEOC in California, according to Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office. “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.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at the EEOC’s website.

Gail Cecchettini Whaley, CalChamber Employment Law Counsel/Content

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