Marisa Taylor reports for McClatchy DC that a federal jury has awarded $4,000,000 to nine former employees of Metropolitan Interpreters and Translators, a Drug Enforcement Agency contractor, who were compelled to take lie detector tests in violation of the 1988 Employee Polygraph Protection Act. Excerpt:
WASHINGTON — A federal jury awarded $4 million to nine former translators after they were forced at the behest of the Drug Enforcement Administration to undergo illegal lie-detector tests.
The San Diego jury determined that a DEA contractor, Metropolitan Interpreters and Translators Inc., should be required to pay damages to its former translators in a rare rebuke of the federal government’s reliance on lie-detector tests. The verdict on Tuesday comes after a federal judge determined the tests violated federal law and the DEA separately agreed to pay $500,000 to settle the lawsuit, although the translators were contract workers.
“This case showed that the polygraph is unreliable, especially when it’s administered in this way,” said Gene Iredale, the attorney for the plaintiffs. “The case also suggested discrepancies in how the DEA relied on polygraph.”
The jury was only determining whether Metropolitan should be required to pay damages, not the DEA. Even so, the jurors concluded that 40 percent of the “non-economic” damages was caused by the DEA and 60 percent by the company. As a result of the shared liability, the translators may only be entitled to less than the $4 million. The jury also considered adding to the award by levying punitive damages, which it declined to do on Thursday.
An employee who answered the phone but declined to identify herself said Metropolitan would not be commenting. The company provides translation services to private companies, law enforcement and government agencies. It has offices in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, San Diego, Atlanta and Washington.
The contract employees had translated Spanish conversations collected during court-authorized wiretapping of the DEA’s criminal suspects. Metropolitan fired them after they failed or refused to take the polygraphs that the DEA had demanded.
Last October, however, a federal judge ruled that by mandating the tests the company violated a 1988 law banning most private employers from requiring polygraphs.
Requiring employees or job applicants to take lie-detector tests is controversial because of scientific questions about the reliability of the technique and complaints that it’s too invasive. Most criminal courts do not permit polygraph results to be used as evidence against criminal suspects because of doubts about whether the tests can actually determine if someone is lying.