Over 6,000 workers at Yale University will no longer have to decide between sharing their private medical information or paying an expensive fee now that employees represented by AARP Foundation attorneys have received final approval of 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 and their spouses 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 wanted 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 requiring workers to undergo medical testing or provide genetic information unless workers do so voluntarily. Under terms of the settlement, which a judge approved on Nov. 22, 2022, 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.
“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.”
“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.”
AARP Foundation received preliminary approval for the settlement in June 2022. Since that time, AARP Foundation has notified more than 6,000 individuals who are eligible to participate in the settlement. With the Nov. 22 final approval, participants can expect to start receiving monetary payments in early 2023, and Yale will start implementing the health-data sharing practices it agreed to as part of the settlement, and it will not collect any fees for at least the next four years. AARP has fought against coercive wellness programs for years, successfully overturning federal wellness rules in 2017 that permitted employers to financially penalize workers who did not participate. Wellness programs can increase the risk of disability discrimination for older workers, because they collect sensitive medical information that is likely to reveal the presence of a disability. Because of this risk, the ADA and GINA make it clear that any information collected must be provided voluntarily.