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PRESS RELEASE
11-10-14

Seed and Fertilizer Providers to Pay $187,500 for Genetic Information and Disability Discrimination

Class of Job Applicants Was Subjected to Illegal Medical Exams and Family Medical History Inquiries, EEOC Charged

SAN DIEGO, Calif. - Three Southern California seed and fertilizer providers - All Star Seed, Inc., La Valle Sabbia and Abatti - will pay $187,500 to settle a discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of a class of job applicants who were subjected to illegal medical and genetic information inquiries, the federal agency announced today.

The EEOC contended that the El Centro, Calif.-based agricultural companies (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.

At least one applicant was denied hire as a result, the EEOC said. In 2010, a temporary worker applied for a full-time permanent dispatcher position in Long Beach, Calif. The applicant was allegedly informed that he would be considered for hire after taking a physical examination and drug test. The individual continued to work as a temporary worker in the dispatcher position pending those results. The medical examination solicited disability-related information and family medical history unrelated to the job. As a result, the applicant was required to disclose a prior medical condition, one shared by others in his family. The applicant was thereafter denied hire due to his perceived disability even though the prior condition had no correlation to the work he was already successfully performing.

At least three additional class members underwent similar inquiries, despite ultimately being hired. The EEOC further 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 suit against the companies in 2013 in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California [EEOC v. All Star Seed dba Eight Star Commodities, Green Touch Fertilizer, and Allstar Seed Company; La Valle Sabbia, Inc. dba Eight Star Equipment and Eight Star Logistics; and Abatti dba Abatti Companies; Case No. CV13-07196 JAK (AJWx)] after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

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."

Marla Stern-Knowlton, director of the EEOC's San Diego Local Office, added, "There are strict guidelines prohibiting inquiries into a job applicant's medical condition and disability prior to hire. Even after hire, employers should avoid asking questions about an applicant's medical condition if it is not job-related. With respect to genetic information - or family medical history - the law is even more restrictive in that most employers may never ask or acquire genetic information from applicants or employees."

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 www.eeoc.gov.