U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Agricultural Firm Required Illegal Medical Exams & Family Medical History Inquiries, Denying a Job to an Applicant Thought to be Disabled, Federal Agency Charges
EL CENTRO, Calif. -The Abatti Group and its subsidiaries, a provider of seed and fertilizer, violated federal law by engaging in discrimination based on both disability and genetic information, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
The EEOC contends that the Abatti Group and its subsidiaries All Star Seed, Green Touch Fertilizer and Eight Star Commodities required job applicants to undergo illegal physical exams and questions about their medical conditions. The Abatti Group also made illegal inquiries into applicants' family medical histories-also known as genetic information-as a condition of employment.
According to the EEOC, at least one applicant was denied hire as a result. In 2010, a temporary worker applied for a full-time permanent dispatcher position at the Abatti Group's El Centro, Calif., location. 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.
Part of the medical examination solicited disability-related information as well as family medical history unrelated to the job, contends the EEOC. The applicant reluctantly disclosed that he was hospitalized one time due to an issue with his heart, a condition shared by others in his family. Ultimately, he was denied hire because the Abatti Group allegedly regarded him as being disabled even though the one-time hospitalization had no correlation to the work he was already doing.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA). The EEOC filed its suit against the Abatti Group and its subsidiaries in the 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 EEOC's suit seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages for the applicant as well as injunctive relief intended to prevent further discrimination at the companies.
"The law on genetic information and family medical history is a new frontier in employment discrimination law," said Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC's Los Angeles District Office. "It extends beyond the hiring stage, prohibiting inquiries at any time with only a few minor exceptions. Employers need to be cognizant of their legal requirements and be respectful of every applicant's and employee's right to privacy."
Marla Stern-Knowlton, director of the EEOC's San Diego Local Office, added, "Under federal law, employers are prohibited from making pre-employment inquiries about an applicant's disability or genetic information. Unless there is a business necessity for such questions, companies should steer clear of asking broad questions about an applicant's health."
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.