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AARP Foundation Achieves Settlement in Yale Workplace Wellness Lawsuit

Some employees faced fees of $1,300 per year if they did not participate in the program

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More than 5,400 workers at Yale University will no longer have to choose between sharing their private medical information or paying an expensive fee now that employees represented by AARP Foundation attorneys have reached a settlement in a class action lawsuit against the Ivy League institution. 

At issue was Yale’s workplace wellness program, called the Health Expectations Program (HEP). The program required certain union employees to submit to extensive medical testing, such as mammograms, colonoscopies and screenings for diabetes, with the university’s wellness vendors gaining access to the results. Workers who chose to keep their health information private or abstain from such tests were automatically charged $25 per week, which adds up to $1,300 a year.

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AARP Foundation, which partnered with Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti, P.C. in the lawsuit, argued that the wellness program violated both the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). The two federal laws bar employers from getting medical or genetic information from their workers unless the information is provided voluntarily. Under terms of the settlement, Yale will continue to offer the HEP but will not charge opt-out fees for four years and will change its practices regarding the transfer of health data in connection with the HEP. The university also will pay $1.29 million, to be distributed among employees who were covered by HEP and to cover plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees and costs.  

Listen to a special Take on Today podcast about the Yale lawsuit.

“We are very pleased with the settlement in this important case, both because of the significant amount of compensation for Yale’s employees and because of the example Yale is setting for other employers by eliminating their opt-out fees,” said William Alvarado Rivera, senior vice president for litigation at AARP Foundation. “We believe participating in a wellness program should be entirely voluntary, with no element of coercion, financial or otherwise.”   

Yale Agrees to Pay Over $1 Million to Settle Employee Wellness Program Suit

“We designed the HEP with our union partners and the advice of health care and legal experts,” remarked Stephanie Spangler, vice provost for Health Affairs and Academic Integrity on behalf of Yale. “Nevertheless, we feel it is best to resolve what would have been expensive litigation and move forward. Our relationship with our employees is an important priority.”

The risks that workplace wellness programs can pose for older workers — who often face age discrimination because employers think their health care coverage will be costly — are a problem AARP has fought against for years. In August 2017, AARP successfully sued the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to overturn federal wellness rules that, contrary to federal law’s requirement that such programs be voluntary, allowed employers to penalize workers who do not to participate in the companies’ wellness programs.

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Kenneth Terrell covers employment, age discrimination, work and jobs, careers and the federal government for AARP. He previously worked for the Education Writers Association and U.S. News & World Report, where he reported on government and politics, business, education, science and technology, and lifestyle news.

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AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.