Did Yale University Cross the Line?

Aug 21 2019

As it appeared on Human Resource Executive

A class-action suit against the Ivy League school could have wider implications for employee-wellness programs.

By: Carol Patton

In July, the AARP Foundation and Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti law firm filed a class-action lawsuit against Yale University, alleging that the employee-wellness program at the Ivy League school violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

The Health Expectations program requires roughly 5,000 union employees and their spouses to submit to invasive medical tests and divulge their insurance claims data to multiple wellness vendors. Those who refuse are fined $1,300 a year, which is deducted directly from employees’ paychecks in $25 weekly increments. The complaint states that wellness programs that solicit confidential medical and genetic information must be voluntary under the ADA and GINA.

While Yale officials declined to comment, Dara Smith, senior attorney at the AARP Foundation, claims that this practice places a heavy burden on employees wishing to preserve their civil rights.

“Think about people with invisible disabilities like mental-health conditions, [such as] depression, that they really don’t want people to know about,” says Smith. “If their employer gets a hold of this health information, they can use it to discriminate against them.”

These employees may not be promoted or assigned special tasks or projects that expose them to senior leaders. Managers may also fear these workers will “fly off the handle at work,” she says, or fire them, falsely assuming they can’t handle demanding job tasks or are key contributors to the company’s escalating healthcare expenses.

Although these scenarios appear far-fetched, Smith says they are common. So are incentives, which she says are also illegal because they “still financially disadvantage employees who don’t want to reveal their information or adhere to an employer-mandated testing regime.”

Create a Movement
The primary goal of the lawsuit is two-fold: to stop employee fines and obtain reimbursement for those who already paid the fine, adds Josh Goodbaum, partner at the Levin-Epstein law firm.

“We’re not making a policy argument,” he explains. “This is a legal argument.”

Goodbaum says it’s important for HR to ensure that its wellness program is voluntary and that employee health information is protected by HIPAA and segregated from company decision-makers to avoid potential employee discrimination.

Before any controversial practice is rolled out, solicit employee reactions via focus groups or employee-resource groups, adds LuAnn Heinen, vice president of wellbeing and workforce strategy at the National Business Group on Health, which addresses national health-policy issues and shares best practices in healthcare management.

Then create a “movement,” she says. “Make it fun, make it social … Leverage the assets of the workplace.”

Legal or not, she says, many large employers rarely choose a wellbeing strategy that “causes pain” for workers because they seldom achieve program goals, sustain programs or build employee engagement.

“[Employee] wellbeing is a competitive advantage and an important piece of your workforce strategy,” Heinen says. “Process becomes important. In the long run, a winning strategy is a hearts and minds approach.”

Share this Post

joshua goodbaum garrison levin-epstein fitzgerald pirrotti

You deserve justice. We are here to fight for you.

Let Us Review Your Case

We will respond to your message promptly. Although we will keep your message strictly confidential, please note that contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Client Experiences

During a very difficult employment situation, I was referred to Joe Garrison. Recognizing the volatile and time sensitive nature of my employment situation, Mr. Garrison met with me immediately (on the weekend no less). He listened to the details of my case, was able to think through possible creative solutions to offer the employer, and was responsive to my myriad of questions. He understood my concerns about litigation versus settlement, and he worked to find the best resolution possible. I am grateful to have had his support at a very difficult time. —J.C., New Haven, CT

Ethan Levin-Epstein represented me during a most painful and challenging crisis in my personal and professional life. Seeing me within 24 hours of being referred, his support and advocacy, wisdom and clarity not only resulted in a favorable negotiated outcome for me and for my family, but gave me peace of mind and the courage to recover. I am very grateful to have met Ethan and his team and would refer anyone in need to this haven. — C.L., Guilford, CT

You will never meet a more knowledgeable and compassionate professional than Steve Fitzgerald. My employment situation was very complex, and Attorney Fitzgerald kept me focused while remaining extremely adept and “thinking on his feet.” Should the need present itself again, I would never seek anyone else’s counsel regarding employment issues. I cannot recommend him highly enough. — J.R., New Haven, CT

Nina Pirrotti provided outstanding legal advice and was trustworthy, dependable, and responsive. From the start, I was confident that her knowledge and experience would obtain favorable results. On a more personal note, I enjoyed working with her and her staff and felt I was included in every part of the process. The dedication, concern, and interest in me as a client was greatly appreciated, and Nina has earned my highest recommendation. — J.H., Monroe, CT

I recently found myself in need of a lawyer in handling a dispute with my former employer. I was fortunate to retain Josh Goodbaum as my legal counsel. His legal skills knowledge and professionalism shone through in every step of the process resulting in a very positive result. I highly recommend Josh if you find yourself in need of legal counsel. — S.R., Guilford, CT

When I go to a lawyer for advice, I am usually anxious, particularly the first meeting. Amanda DeMatteis was clear in describing my options and immediately set me at ease. Realistic assessment is important, and Amanda was clear as to how to set up the case and the direction she felt we should go. I had total confidence in her abilities and knew I was being well represented against a large corporation. More importantly, we were successful! —N.M., Haddam, CT

Proven Results & Personalized Attention When You Need It Most

American Law Institute Super Lawyers American College of Trial Lawyers Best Lawyers The College of Labor and Employment Lawyers
Back to Top