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Agriculture firm settles EEOC charges over medical, genetic history queries


Three El Cerrito, California-based seed and fertilizer providers that operate as a single employer have agreed to pay $197,500 to settle charges they allegedly subjected job applicants to illegal medical and genetic information inquiries.

All Star Seed, La Valle Sabbia Inc. and Abatti Cos. were charged with violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act for allegedly requiring job applicants to undergo physical exams and fill out health questionnaires as conditions of employment.

The EEOC said in a statement Monday that the questionnaires contained improper inquiries about the applicants’ medical conditions and family medical histories. The EEOC said at least one applicant was denied a job as a result, although at least three others were still hired.

The EEOC also charged that the companies failed to adequately maintain the medical and genetic information’s confidentiality, permitting this information to be unlawfully commingled with nonconfidential personnel files.

The EEOC said the four affected individuals will receive the majority of the settlement amount, and a smaller class fund will be established for unidentified class members at the EEOC’s discretion.

In addition to paying the settlement, the parties entered into a four-year consent decree that prohibited them from subjecting job applicants and employees to preoffer medical exams, among other provisions.

“There are strict guidelines prohibiting inquiries into a job applicants’ medical condition and disability prior to hire,” Marla Stern-Knowlton, director of the EEOC’s San Diego office, said in a statement. “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,” she said.

The companies’ attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.

The EEOC has also filed suit against Morristown, New Jersey-based Honeywell International Inc., charging it with violating the ADA and GINA by effectively forcing employees and their spouses to submit to health screenings.

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