Seed and fertilizer providers to pay $187,500 in discrimination lawsuit

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – Three Southern California seed and fertilizer providers will pay $187,500 to settle a discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a class of job applicants who were subjected to illegal medical and genetic inquiries, the federal agency announced today.

The EEOC contended that the El Centro-based agricultural companies — All Star Seed Inc., La Valle Sabbia and Abatti — required job applicants to undergo physical exams and fill out health questionnaires as a condition of employment, which violates federal law. The EEOC charged that the questionnaires contained improper inquiries about the applicants’ medical conditions and family medical histories, also known as genetic information.

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

At least one applicant was denied hire as a result of the illegal inquires, according to the EEOC. In 2010, a temporary worker applied for a full-time permanent dispatcher position in Long Beach. The applicant was allegedly informed that he would be considered for hire after taking a physical examination and drug test.

The person continued to work as a temporary worker in a dispatcher position pending the 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 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.

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