WASHINGTON - The Drug Enforcement Administration has agreed to pay 14 contractors $500,000 to settle a lawsuit that accuses the agency of illegally requiring them to undergo highly intrusive lie detector tests to keep their jobs as translators.
The settlement appears to be the first time that a federal government agency has settled allegations involving contractors' lie detector tests since a 1988 law banned the use of polygraph screening for most private employees, said a lawyer for the group.
The 14 contract employees translated Spanish conversations collected during court-authorized wiretapping of the DEA's criminal suspects. They said they were barred from working after they failed or refused polygraphs.
The DEA did not acknowledge any wrongdoing, but it agreed to rescreen the plaintiffs without weighing lie detector results.
The agency also promised to delete references to the polygraphs from government records.
"This will serve as a message to other government agencies," said Gene Iredale, the San Diego lawyer who sued the DEA.
"The people who were involved in this case work hard and are of impeccable character. But because of a squiggle on a piece of paper and the poor administration of these polygraphs, they were humiliated and unfairly deprived of their employment."
More than 20 federal agencies, including the DEA, are permitted to polygraph job applicants and employees to determine whether they've lied about their backgrounds, McClatchy has reported.
About 73,000 people a year undergo polygraphs to obtain federal security clearances.