Set out below in its entirely is the letter from Hilde Lindemann, chair of The American Philosophical Association Committee on the Status of Women, writing for that Committee, and delivered on September 16, 2013 to David Gray, Senior Vice President for Finance and Busines and Susan Basso, Vice President for Human Resources, of the Pennsylvania State University. It is entitled: "The American Philosophical Association Committee on the Status of Women responds to Penn State's discriminatory violations of privacy rights."
(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer)
The letter is notable for suggesting highlighting what had received less attention in the debate over the substantive and procedural missteps and errors that have come to be asserted against the Penn State Wellness program: that of its particular burdens and intrusions on the privacy rights of women. These may raise not just the issues of violations of human rights (some recognized in law in the United States, others comprising part of an emerging international consensus on rights of personal autonomy and constraints on intrusion) but also core issues that may touch on the constitutional protections of the rights of women. The later issue and one that lies at the core of international efforts like those of the United Nations Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, is that in their quest for financial advantage, business enterprises, including universities, have a responsibility to respect human rights, one which includes a duty to undertake the sort of human rights due diligence, especially when their actions may produce detrimental human rights effects, that Penn State has not shared yet with the University community. (E.g., More Penn State Wellness Programs in the News and From the Bottom Up; ICMM, Integrating human rights due diligence into corporate risk management processes, March 2012; and my own work, HERE, HERE and HERE)
The APA responds to Penn State's discriminatory violations of privacy rights
TO: David Gray, Senior Vice President for Finance and Business
Susan Basso, Vice President for Human Resources
Penn State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
Dear Mr. Gray and Ms. Basso:
According to an article in the 10 September Centre Daily Times and the 15 September New York Times, a health risk assessment questionnaire that is part of Penn State’s new employee wellness program asks women employees whether they plan to get pregnant in the next year. If the employee refuses to disclose this she is penalized $100 for every month she fails to yield up the information.
By requiring women employees to disclose information about their sex lives, Penn State violates their privacy rights and likely violates their rights under federal law (Title VII and The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Title IX, privacy law, and equal protection). Highmark, Penn State’s health care provider, targets women employees by imposing on them a special burden of disclosure about their sexual intent. Are male employees required to disclose their intended sexual activity over the year? To avoid paying a fine, is a woman employee forced to lie? And if she has no plans but becomes pregnant accidentally, does that increase her insurance premiums?
In a culture where women’s bodies are socially policed from early childhood until well past menopause, it is particularly unethical to force a female employee to reveal her reproductive intentions to a corporation whose interest is in making profits—an interest that directly conflicts with the woman’s interest in retaining sovereignty over her body. We members of the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Women urge you in the strongest possible terms to direct Highmark to cease this practice immediately.
The American Philosophical Association Committee on the Status of Women for the Committee