DEA Sued by Wiretap Translators For Conducting Illegal Polygraphs

A group of 8 translators/interpreters in San Diego have sued the Drug Enforcement Administration for administering polygraphs in violation of federal law. The interpreters' employer, Metropolitan, aka Metlang has also been sued.

The DEA contracted with Metlang to provide linguists/translators for its criminal cases. The suing translators worked for Metlang on DEA's wiretaps and criminal cases. They were all fired after either refusing the test or after DEA reported their polygraphs results as “failed,”or "inconclusive" to Metlang.

Under the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, 29 USC §§2001, a private employer is prohibited from requesting, requiring or demanding a polygraph test from an employee.

The polygraphs lasted four or five hours, and one woman was questioned about bestiality: [More...]

During the pre-test phase of the examination, the polygrapher asked her if she had engaged in sexual activity with animals. L.A.’s examination lasted approximately five hours. L.A. was told that she had not passed the polygraph exam. L.A. was terminated from her employment at Metropolitan.

From the Complaint, available here:

While the DEA is excluded from the EPPA requirements with respect to its own employees, it is prohibited from requesting, requiring or demanding that a private contractor’s employees submit to a polygraph under 29 USC §§ 2001, et seq unless the contractor falls under specified statutory exceptions, none of which apply in this case.

22. The DEA’s actions in performing polygraphs were clearly illegal. Instead of declining to force its employees into submitting to illegal polygraphs, Metropolitan and defendants agreed with, participated with and aided and abetted the DEA in the violation of law described in this Complaint. Metropolitan and the defendants engaged in a joint venture to violate the laws a described.

23. While it was DEA polygraphers who administered the tests, it was Defendant Metropolitan which coordinated the testing; scheduled the tests; communicated with the employees regarding the tests; presented the order in which the tests would be given; and discharged the employees after they “failed” or refused the test or had inconclusive test results.

Another translator was asked whether he ever cheated on his partner:

[After he] took the polygraph, he was escorted out as if he had committed a crime. The polygrapher told J.M. that he failed one question and asked J.M. to submit to a retest. J.M. agreed to a retest. No one set up a retest and he was terminated from his job.

The EPPA statute forbids sexual questions in employee polygraph tests.

Another employee was asked if he ever received treatment from a mental health practitioner.

For damages, the linguists are seeking:

"As a direct and proximate result of Defendants’ actions, Plaintiffs were subjected to humiliation, fear, loss of income, loss of reputation, dissemination of defamatory information, loss of employment, and pain and suffering by the illegal acts of defendants and are entitled to attorney fees and punitive damages," the complaint states.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Well (5.00 / 0) (#1)
    by Edger on Fri Feb 24, 2012 at 08:56:21 PM EST
    The DEA is a law enforcement agency of the US Government, aren't they?

    As such, should anyone reasonably expect them to follow the law these days?

    What evidence is there (5.00 / 2) (#2)
    by Peter G on Fri Feb 24, 2012 at 10:12:15 PM EST
    that polygraphs are scientifically accurate? If anything, they measure stress, not lying, don't they?

    None (5.00 / 4) (#3)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Feb 25, 2012 at 01:20:22 AM EST
    (of course you know that) but that's not really why they give them. It's all about the pre-test interview (which is where the objectionable questions mentioned above were asked.) It's the pre-test interview where they try to get incriminating information out of you, set you up and mess with your head.

    During the "pretest" interview, polygraphers frequently ask questions about an examinee's background, qualifications, education, family, interests, etc. The examinee is left to assume that all this information is necessary in order for the polygrapher to successfully conduct the "test." In actuality, the purpose of the "pretest interview" is to manipulate the examinee into lying on certain questions (the "control" questions), observe his/her body language during questioning, and to gather personal information that can later be used in a post-test interrogation to elicit admissions (or, in the case of criminal polygraph interrogations, a confession).

    And, same source:

    Law enforcement does not value the polygraph for its purported ability to sort out truth from deception. Polygraph results are generally not admissible in court. Rather, the device is coveted by police agencies because of its effective role as a psychological third degree. The goal is simple: to elicit a confession (which can be used in court).

    Yes, I did know that, J (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by Peter G on Sat Feb 25, 2012 at 12:24:37 PM EST
    But I was hoping you would elaborate -- for the TL community and any others who might find it by googling the topic -- exactly what you did spell out.  (That way, I wouldn't have to (being too lazy).)

    Speaking as an attorney who does foreign (none / 0) (#5)
    by scribe on Sat Feb 25, 2012 at 05:18:08 PM EST
    language work on the civil side - reviewing and translating documents for litigation - this sort of employer conduct is not surprising in the least.

    The long and short of it is that the foreign language personnel employed in this kind of work are underpaid and routinely subjected to abusive conduct by the contract employers.  For attorneys doing this kind of work, recall that the job requires an earned doctorate, a professional license earned after a competitive examination, and foreign language skills that would fall into the category of "fluent".  In return, you get a pretty darn low pay rate, as a rule no overtime (the employers class you as an executive or supervisor and not entitled to OT), no benefits, and the constant having to hustle up new work because the gigs may last only a week or two.  Some agencies have abusive non-attorneys supervising you or cutting your hours.  Some shave your hours.  Some demand you promise to indemnify them against any later suits or claims - do the work and then give back your pay.

    There was one agency, providing English language document reveiw in a major bankruptcy, that paid the attorneys doing the reviews all of $30/hour, but then billed the bankruptcy Estate $430/hour and submitted an affidavit to the bankruptcy court (to get court permission to be paid from the bankruptcy estate, as is normal and required) saying that was "fair and reasonable".

    FWIW, too, the hourly rates paid to the attorneys for the foreign language work have declined by about 30-40 percent over the last 5 years.

    The more obscure the language, the better the conditions you are working under.  There are currently going begging Japanese-language jobs where they get a high pay rate and overtime.  But, how many US lawyers speak fluent Japanese?  Spanish, OTOH, are relatively a dime a dozen and treated that way.  They treat you shabbily to try to get you to quit.

    I suspect DEA and the employment agency figured they could get away with the things they are alleged to have done because the translators likely translate a common language and were therefore easily replacable, and the agency wanted to squeeze out people and get them to take a lower rate, while continuing to bill the government the same or more.  

    Comment with unsubstantiated (none / 0) (#6)
    by Jeralyn on Wed Feb 29, 2012 at 09:50:52 PM EST
    allegations of misconduct by anonymous new poster deleted.