On August 20, 2014, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin against Orion Energy Systems, Inc. (“Orion”) alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act because Orion allegedly penalized, and then fired an employee for refusing to participate in a company “wellness” program. This lawsuit appears to be the first of its kind filed by the EEOC.
In a post-Affordable Care Act world of rising insurance premiums and efforts by employers and government agencies to promote wellness as a method of reducing the cost of health care, it will be interesting to see what legal precedent arises from this case, and what emerging legal risk employers will be required to navigate in order to implement such programs.
While the facts of the complaint are, at this point, only allegations, the EEOC claims that Orion violated the ADA by:
- Requiring the plaintiff to “participate in medical examinations and inquiries that were not job-related or consistent with business necessity;”
- Retaliating against the plaintiff “because of her good faith objections and decision not to participate in Orion’s wellness program;” and
- Interfering with, coercing, and intimidating the plaintiff “for exercising her right under the ADA not to be subject to unlawful disability-related inquiries.”
It is not clear from the complaint whether the plaintiff had any disabilities or health issues that would have prevented participation in the wellness program. The lawsuit, in its beginning stages, will be one to watch with interest for employers who provide wellness programs for their employees.