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Attorney General Bonta Takes Stand Against Effort to Undermine California’s Anti-Discrimination Protections in Hiring

Highly intrusive, non-job-related questions by an entity acting for an employer about someone’s disability status, menstrual health, hair loss are unlawful and discriminatory

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today filed an amicus brief before the California Supreme Court in Raines v. U.S. Healthworks Medical Group pushing back on efforts to undercut the application of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act’s (FEHA) anti-discrimination protections to entities acting on behalf of employers. The underlying lawsuit in the case alleges that U.S. Healthworks Medical Group — one of the largest providers of occupational health services in California — unlawfully required job applicants to answer highly intrusive, non-job-related, and discriminatory health questions on behalf of prospective employers, including questions on disability status, menstrual health, and hair loss. In the friend-of-the-court brief, Attorney General Bonta urges the California Supreme Court to make it clear that FEHA applies to entities acting on behalf of an employer that undertake activities FEHA regulates, and reiterates the potential harms to all Californians, and particularly those with disabilities, if FEHA’s strong anti-discrimination provisions are undermined.

“You don’t need to know someone’s menstrual health to decide if they’re qualified to deliver food to those in need,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Highly intrusive, non-job-related questions about someone’s disability status, menstrual health, or hair loss are unlawful and discriminatory. In this moment in particular with some politicians looking to weaponize people’s personal medical decisions, we need to make it absolutely clear that employers and entities acting on their behalf are not entitled to information they don’t need and can be held accountable under California law. Employment screenings have to be specifically related to the job at hand. If not, they can result in discrimination, whether it’s against applicants with disabilities or anyone else. In California, workers are protected and they deserve a fair shot when applying for a job.”

The class action suit, Raines v. U.S. Healthworks Medical Group, involves a challenge initially brought in federal court to the pre-employment screening practices conducted by a corporate entity acting on behalf of other employers, which allegedly included sensitive and intrusive questions as part of a medical questionnaire. For instance, plaintiffs in the case assert that job applicants were required to answer questions regarding disabilities, mental illness, HIV status, menstrual issues, hair loss, hemorrhoids, and more. The plaintiffs further allege that, when one of the plaintiffs refused to answer a question relating to her menstruation, her offer of employment was subsequently revoked. However, the federal district court held that U.S. Healthworks Medical Group, the third-party company conducting the screening, could not be separately liable under FEHA, contrary to the purpose and plain language of the statute. Following that ruling, the case came before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which subsequently referred the core question of FEHA’s application to business entities acting on behalf of employers to the California Supreme Court. In the amicus brief, the Attorney General pushes back on the lower court’s interpretation of the law, noting that it would allow corporations acting on behalf of an employer to evade liability for their own unlawful actions. 

The California Department of Justice has a long-standing practice of defending Californians from employment discrimination, including on the grounds of disability status or medical conditions. In the amicus brief, filed by the California Department of Justice’s Disability Rights Bureau, Attorney General Bonta argues:

  • FEHA’s plain text and structure provide for agent liability for violations of the law’s protections;
  • Exempting all agents from direct liability under FEHA would impair efforts to prevent unlawful employment practices;
  • Federal case law also supports agent liability in employment contexts; and
  • Californians experience harms from discriminatory practices, like unlawful pre-employment medical inquiries, prohibited under FEHA.

The California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Disability Rights seeks to ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities are advanced through specific investigations and litigation. The bureau expands on the Civil Rights Enforcement Section's work to vindicate the rights of persons with disabilities on issues including discrimination in education, healthcare, employment, access to public services, and with regard to law enforcement involvement. For more information on the Disability Rights Bureau please visit: oag.ca.gov/civil/disability-rights.

A copy of the amicus brief is available here. A copy of the amicus brief previously filed before the Ninth Circuit is available here.