Keep all medical records confidential! Otherwise, normal lawsuit rules don’t apply

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in Discrimination and Harassment,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Employers are used to breathing a sigh of relief when 300 days pass without learning that a former employee has filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC or the New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR). They assume that missing the deadline means the employee won’t be able to sue.

Not so fast! That’s not true in all cases. Under some limited circumstances, former employees don’t have to file an administrative complaint at all.

That includes situations involving the release of confidential medical information to those within the company who don’t have a legitimate need to know.

Recent case: Mahmoud Mahran worked for Benderson Development in the IT department and requested a short medical leave. He submitted his documentation, and the company approved the time off.

When Mahran returned to work, co-workers allegedly harassed him about the medical basis for his leave—mentioning details he never disclosed to them, and that could only have come from the leave application and accompanying medical records.

He then quit, later claiming he had been emotionally devastated by the disclosure of his medical records.

At first, Mahran did nothing. Then he sued.

He had waited exactly three years to file his lawsuit, alleging violations of both the FMLA and the ADA. He argued that Benderson Development should have kept the information confidential.

The company tried to have the claims dismissed because Mahran failed to file either an EEOC or a DHR complaint on time. But the court said he could have his day in court.

First, the court noted that FMLA lawsuits have a three-year statute of ­limitations for willful violations. It said that a judge or jury would be quite likely to consider it a willful violation to disregard medical confidentiality.

Next, the court said that the confidentiality provisions of the ADA don’t require filing an EEOC or state discrimination agency complaint as a prerequisite to litigation. That’s because the confidentiality clause is contained in a different section of the ADA than the law covering accommodations and disability discrimination. That section makes no mention of an EEOC complaint.

Finally, the court said Mahran will have to revise his lawsuit complaint with more details on exactly what information had been released, given that he had provided no details. (Mahran v. Benderson Development, No. 10-CV-715A, WD NY, 2011)

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