Manitowoc, Wis.-based Orion Energy Systems violated federal law by requiring an employee to submit to medical exams and inquiries that were not job-related and consistent with business necessity as part of a so-called "wellness program," which was not voluntary, and then by firing the employee when she objected to the program, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charges in a lawsuit it filed.
In its lawsuit filed in Green Bay, Wis., the federal agency contends that Orion instituted a wellness program that required medical examinations and made disability-related inquiries. When employee Wendy Schobert declined to participate in the program, Orion shifted responsibility for payment of the entire premium for her employee health benefits from Orion to Schobert. Shortly thereafter, Orion fired Schobert.
The EEOC maintains that Orion's wellness program violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as it was applied to Schobert, and that Orion retaliated against Schobert because of her good-faith objections to the wellness program. The EEOC further asserts that Orion interfered with Schobert's exercise of her federally protected right to not be subjected to unlawful medical exams and disability-related inquiries.
The EEOC brought the suit under Title I of the ADA, which prohibits disability discrimination in employment, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The case, (EEOC v. Orion Energy Systems, Civil Action 1:14-cv-01019) was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Green Bay Division, and is assigned to U.S. District Judge Chief Judge William C. Griesbach.
This most recent lawsuit is the EEOC's first to directly challenge a wellness program under the ADA. Earlier hearings by the EEOC on wellness programs revealed that a majority of employers now offer some sort of wellness program — 94 percent of employers with over 200 workers, and 63 percent of smaller ones, according to Karen Pollitz of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which researches issues relating to health care.