Yale University Hit with Class Action Over Wellness Program’s Mandatory Opt-Out Fees

Jul 17 2019

As it appeared on ClassAction.org

by Erin Gilmore

Yale University faces a proposed class action lawsuit over the mandatory fees charged to union members who opt out of the university’s wellness program.

Yale, according to the lawsuit, requires members of two of the school’s local unions to participate in the Health Expectation Program (HEP), a wellness program that the case says requires Yale employees and their spouses to submit to “invasive medical examinations and testing” and divulge protected medical information. If members do not comply with HEP’s “stringent requirements,” they must pay a fine of $25 per week, which adds up to $1,300 per year, the lawsuit explains.

A table summarizing the HEP’s testing requirements has been included below:

In addition to these “burdensome medical examinations,” the HEP, the case continues, also requires that some union members consult with a health coach. The university allegedly gleans information from employees’ health insurance claims and assigns them a health coach if it determines that their medical history presents “certain risk variables” such as multiple chronic conditions, “lab values out of range,” or a diagnosis of diabetes, heart disease, heart failure, or other conditions.

The plaintiffs, several members of the University’s Local 34 and Local 35, claim the hefty financial penalty imposed on them for choosing not to comply with the HEP renders their participation in the program involuntary and therefore violates their right to keep their personal information private. According to the case, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) prohibit employers from obtaining employees’ medical and genetic information unless the data is provided voluntarily.

“The $25 per week fine imposes a significant burden on certain members of the Class; so much so that paying the $25 per week fine is not a viable option,” the complaint stresses. “These members of Local 34 and Local 35 are forced to disclose sensitive medical information and undergo invasive testing to avoid the weekly fine.”

The lawsuit notes that Yale partners with two third-party vendors, non-parties HealthMine and Trestle Tree, to administer the HEP program. HealthMine assists Yale in determining whether union members require a health coach, the case explains, and if so, forwards their insurance claims data to Trestle Tree. Trestle Tree then pairs the individual with a health coach, the suit says.

Importantly, the lawsuit stresses, Trestle Tree is not an entity covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), meaning that employees’ private medical data is no longer under the same level of protection once it is transferred to Trestle Tree. According to the case, HEP participants are asked to sign a HIPAA waiver in order to receive HEP credit; however, the lawsuit alleges that HealthMine transfers employees’ private data to Trestle Tree even when they refuse to sign the waiver.

“The claims migration process reveals and jeopardizes the privacy of sensitive information about employees’ and their spouses’ medical histories, including the manifestation of a disease or disorder—information protected under the ADA and GINA,” the complaint charges.

The lawsuit, apart from seeking monetary damages, looks to prohibit Yale from continuing to impose a weekly fine on union members for their non-participation in its wellness program as well as bar the university from divulging their private data to third parties.

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