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PRESS RELEASE
9-30-13

EEOC Sues Abatti Group for Disability, Genetic Information Discrimination

Agricultural Firm Required Illegal Medical  Exams & Family Medical History Inquiries, Denying a Job to an Applicant  Thought to be Disabled, Federal Agency Charges

EL CENTRO, Calif. -The Abatti Group and its subsidiaries, a provider of  seed and fertilizer, violated federal law by engaging in discrimination based  on both disability and genetic information, the U.S. Equal Employment  Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today. 

The EEOC contends that the Abatti Group and its subsidiaries All Star  Seed, Green Touch Fertilizer and Eight Star Commodities required job applicants  to undergo illegal physical exams and questions about their medical  conditions.  The Abatti Group also made  illegal inquiries into applicants' family medical histories-also known as  genetic information-as a condition of employment. 

According to the EEOC, at least one applicant was denied hire as a  result.  In 2010, a temporary worker  applied for a full-time permanent dispatcher position at the Abatti Group's El  Centro, Calif., location.  The applicant  was allegedly informed that he would be considered for hire after taking a  physical examination and drug test.  The  individual continued to work as a temporary worker in the dispatcher position  pending those results. 

Part of the medical examination solicited disability-related  information as well as family medical history unrelated to the job, contends  the EEOC.  The applicant reluctantly  disclosed that he was hospitalized one time due to an issue with his heart, a  condition shared by others in his family.  Ultimately, he was denied hire because the  Abatti Group allegedly regarded him as being disabled even though the one-time  hospitalization had no correlation to the work he was already doing.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)  and the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA).  The EEOC filed its suit against the Abatti  Group and its subsidiaries in the U.S. District Court for the Central District  of California [EEOC v. All Star Seed dba Eight Star Commodities,  Green Touch Fertilizer, and Allstar Seed Company; La Valle Sabbia, Inc. dba  Eight Star Equipment and Eight Star Logistics; and Abatti dba Abatti Companies; Case No.  CV13-07196 JAK (AJWx)],  after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its  conciliation process.  The EEOC's suit  seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages for the applicant as well as  injunctive relief intended to prevent further discrimination at the  companies.  

"The law on genetic information and family medical history is a new  frontier in employment discrimination law," said Anna Park, regional attorney  for the EEOC's Los Angeles District Office.   "It extends beyond the hiring stage, prohibiting inquiries at any time  with only a few minor excep­tions.   Employers need to be cognizant of their legal requirements and be  respectful of every applicant's and employee's right to privacy."

Marla Stern-Knowlton, director of the EEOC's San Diego Local Office, added,  "Under federal law, employers are prohibited from making pre-employment  inquiries about an applicant's disability or genetic information.  Unless there is a business necessity for such  questions, companies should steer clear of asking broad questions about an  applicant's health."

One of the six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic  Enforcement Plan (SEP) is for the agency to address emerging and developing  issues in equal employment law, including issues involving the ADA and  pregnancy-related limitations, among other possible issues.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment  discrimination.  Further information is available  at www.eeoc.gov.