Bloomberg Law
March 7, 2022, 5:20 PMUpdated: March 7, 2022, 9:52 PM

Yale Reaches $1.3 Million Deal in Wellness Plan Bias Suit (1)

Patrick Dorrian
Patrick Dorrian
Erin Mulvaney
Erin Mulvaney

Yale University reached a nearly $1.3 million settlement with workers who say a rule requiring them to participate in a wellness program or pay a fee violated federal disability bias and genetic information laws, Connecticut federal court records show.

The deal, which first came to light in September, will require Yale to stop collecting the $25 fee from workers who opted out of its Health Expectations Program. That will last for four years or until there is a change in the law governing employees’ voluntary participation in wellness plans, according to the motion for preliminary approval filed March 4 with the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.

The proposed class action filed in July 2019 alleges that Yale’s health and education program violated federal statutes because it required employees and their spouses to either participate in its employee wellness program or pay a weekly $25 opt-out fee. Yale created the wellness program when federal regulations authorized the opt-out fees. Those regulations were later invalidated by a federal court and haven’t yet been replaced.

The settlement provides a model of how these types of wellness programs can be developed across the country, said Dara Smith, senior attorney with the AARP Foundation, which represented the workers in the class lawsuit. She said these programs have the potential to be invasive and unequally disadvantage older people and those with disabilities.

“A lot of these wellness programs around the country require health goals and testing. Of course, as people age, more diagnostic testing is on that list,” Smith said in an interview. “Older people have more adverse experiences than younger workers.”

Smith said the proposed Yale settlement was the first case that she was aware of that followed the AARP’s challenge of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rules on wellness programs. She said the back-and-forth over those rules has confused employers.

Under the deal, Yale will also modify its data-sharing practices under the health program. If approved, the settlement will bar a business associate of the university from sending data to Yale’s plan vendor for purposes of health coaching without employee consent. The university will also instruct the vendor to purge data related to prior health coaching engagements from its records.

Individuals currently engaged in health coaching will be given the option to have their records purged and to discontinue coaching, the motion said.

‘Move Forward’

About 5,400 union employees at Yale and their spouses were required to either share their medical information with their employer or pay a fine. Participating in the wellness program meant submitting medical testing results such as mammograms and colonoscopies, the 2019 lawsuit alleged.

It specifically alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which generally bar employers from imposing medical exams or inquiries, or acquiring employees’ genetic information, unless doing so is either job-related or part of a “voluntary” wellness program, the proposed class action said.

“We designed the Health Expectations Program with our union partners and the advice of healthcare and legal experts,” Stephanie Spangler, Yale’s deputy provost of health affairs, said in a statement. “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 $1.29 million settlement fund, which still needs court approval, will be used to pay the court-approved attorneys’ fees and costs of class counsel and service awards to certain workers, in addition to individual payments to class members for the alleged ADA and GINA violations, the motion said.

AARP Foundation Litigation and Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti P.C. represents the workers. Wiggin and Dana LLP represents Yale.

The case is Kwesell v. Yale Univ., D. Conn., No. 3:19-cv-01098, motion for preliminary settlement approval 3/4/22.

(Updated with additional reporting throughout. )

To contact the reporters on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at; Erin Mulvaney in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at; Carmen Castro-Pagán at; Martha Mueller Neff at