Seed Companies Agree to Settle EEOC's First California Genetic Discrimination Case

Bloomberg Law: Privacy & Data Security brings you single-source access to the expertise of Bloomberg Law’s privacy and data security editorial team, contributing practitioners,...

By David McAfee

Nov. 14 — In a first of its kind in California Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforcement action, a federal court has approved a consent agreement under which three California seed and agriculture companies will pay almost $190,000 to resolve charges they subjected job applicants to unlawful medical and genetic information inquiries.

Judge John A. Kronstadt of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California approved the agreement Nov. 7. The court made the agreement public concurrent with a Nov. 10 EEOC announcement of the pact.

All Star Seed, La Valle Sabbia Inc. and Abatti, all based in El Centro, Calif., required job seekers to fill out health questionnaires that contained improper inquiries about medical conditions and family medical histories, the EEOC alleged. The companies then screened out potential employees and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, the commission said.

Connie K. Liem, a senior trial attorney who represented the EEOC, said the $187,500 settlement marks a win for the commission in a case that was the first of its kind in California.

“This is the first GINA case the EEOC has litigated on the West Coast,” Liem told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 13. “This resolution will educate the public and employers about the non-disclosure requirements of medical and genetic information, including family medical history, under GINA and the ADA.”

$140,000 of the settlement funds will go to the named plaintiff and three class members. The remaining $47,500 will be placed in a fund to pay as yet unidentified class members.

EEOC Files Suit

The EEOC filed a complaint in September 2013, alleging that All Star, La Valle and Abatti engaged in several unlawful employment practices. The commission filed the action on behalf of Raul Castellanos and other job applicants who said they experienced discrimination involving pre-offer medical inquiries, according to court documents.

The EEOC said the defendants subjected job applicants to “disability related” examinations and questions in violation of the ADA.

The companies also asked for family medical history in violation of GINA, the EEOC alleged.

GINA Allegations

The commission says the defendant companies required Castellanos and other applicants to disclose genetic information in violation of Section 202 of Title I of GINA, 42 U.S.C. § 2000ff-1(b). Genetic information is defined as “the manifestations of a disease or disorder in family members,” according to the EEOC's consent decree filed Nov. 7.

The government's complaint further alleged that the companies used the unlawfully obtained information to classify some applicants—including Castellanos—as disabled and deny them employment.

The EEOC's four-year consent decree resolves the lawsuit and prohibits the defendants from requiring pre-offer medical exams. The companies will also refrain from making inquiries into medical conditions not related to work and about genetic information, according to the consent decree.

The EEOC's deal further stipulates that the companies revise their policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the ADA and GINA, the EEOC said.

“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,” Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC's Los Angeles District Office, who also represented the EEOC in the case, said in the EEOC's statement. “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.”

Representatives for the defendants didn't immediately return Bloomberg BNA's Nov. 13 requests for comment.

Jackson Lewis PC represented the defendants.

To contact the reporter on this story: David McAfee in Los Angeles at dmcafee@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Katie W. Johnson at kjohnson@bna.com

Full text of the consent decree is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/US_Equal_Employment_Opportunity_Commission_v_All_Star_Seed_et_al_.