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Disclosure By Employer Of Medical Information That Was Voluntarily Offered By Employee Does Not Violate ADA

By on July 11, 2011 in ADA with 4 Comments

Many employers struggle with situations that develop when an employee voluntarily reveals certain confidential medical information.  In Watson v. C.R. England, Inc., 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 8971, (10th Cir. 2011), the plaintiff worked as a truck driver for C.R. England.  In the course of his employment, he informed C.R. England’s Human Resources Director that he was HIV positive.  He conveyed this information not in the context of any post-offer medical examination but because he thought another driver had already advised the company of this medical information.

Problems developed a few months after Watson had been working for the company.  He decided to become a driver-trainer for the company and completed a five-day “Train-the Trainer” course in February 2003.  The HR Director called Watson into her office to express concerns about his ability to become a trainer in light of his HIV-positive status.  Several meetings occurred with legal counsel and eventually an idea was proposed that Watson would disclose his HIV-positive status to potential trainees.  Watson agreed to use a form that could be given to potential trainees in which the trainees would acknowledge that they were fully informed of his HIV status.

On February 11, 2003 Watson began his first training assignment.  Before he left, he requested “home time” beginning February 16, 2003.  That request was denied because Watson had not given two weeks’ notice.  On February 12, 2003 Watson and his trainee were dispatched on their first drive together to deliver a load to Omaha, Nebraska.

After they delivered the load, they were sent to pick up a second load in Omaha, but the second load was canceled.  They were then assigned to pick up another load, but that too was canceled.  The company then advised Watson and his trainee to pick up the first previously canceled load.  Watson was stressed about these cancellation occurrences and demanded immediate “home time” stating that he could not wait the two-week notice period.  The request was once again refused, whereupon Watson refused to pick up the previously canceled load and said he was “deadheading” (driving an empty truck) to his family home in Florida.    His employment was shortly thereafter terminated.

Watson filed a charge with the EEOC stating that C.R. England discriminated against him and retaliated against him due to his illness.  The EEOC issued a determination in Watson’s favor, leading to the present law suit.  Watson argued that the company violated ADA § 102(d), 42 U.S.C. § 12112(d) because he disclosed medical information.  The Court of Appeals rejected this argument.

On its face, § 102(d) does not apply to or protect information that is voluntarily disclosed by an employee unless it is elicited during an authorized employment-related medical examination or inquiry. . . In sum, if an employer disclosed medical information that was voluntarily offered by an employee — outside of the context of an authorized employment-related medical examination or inquiry — then the employer is not subject to liability under § 102(d).

The court held that since the disclosure of HIV status came directly from Watson to the HR Director and not as part of any sort of examination or inquiry, the information was not protected by the ADA. 

Plaintiff also argued that the company discriminated against him by requiring potential trainees to sign an HIV-acknowledgement form before training would take place.  The court held that C.R. England did not deny Watson the opportunity to be a trainer, demote him, or reassign him.  It disagreed with the position of the EEOC that requiring the use of the form in itself was an adverse action.  The court ruled that plaintiff did not prove that the use of the acknowledgement form had any meaningful impact on Watson’s employment opportunities.  “Even though some might frown upon C.R. England’s actions in effectively allowing trainees to decline to work with Mr. Watson because he has HIV, ‘not every perceived indignity will rise to the level of an adverse employment action.’”

The case is important because it draws a clear distinction between the use of medical information obtained as part of a medical examination or inquiry and the use of medical information voluntarily disclosed by an employee outside of any such examination.

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About the Author

About the Author:

John H. Geaney, a shareholder and co-chair of Capehart Scatchard's Workers' Compensation department, began an email newsletter entitled Currents in Workers’ Compensation, ADA and FMLA in 2001 in order to keep clients and readers informed on leading developments in these three areas of law. Since that time he has written over 500 newsletter updates.

Mr. Geaney is the author of Geaney’s New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Manual for Practitioners, Adjusters & Employers. The manual is distributed by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE). He also authored an ADA and FMLA manual as distributed by NJICLE. If you are interested in purchasing the manual, please contact NJICLE at 732-214-8500 or visit their website at www.njicle.com.

Mr. Geaney represents employers in the defense of workers’ compensation, ADA and FMLA matters. He is a Fellow of the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers of the American Bar Association and is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a workers’ compensation law attorney. He is one of two firm representatives to the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. He has served on the Executive Committee of Capehart Scatchard for over ten (10) years.

A graduate of Holy Cross College summa cum laude, Mr. Geaney obtained his law degree from Boston College Law School. He has been named a “Super Lawyer” by his peers and Law and Politics. He serves as Vice President of the Friends of MEND, the fundraising arm of a local charitable organization devoted to promoting affordable housing.

Capehart Scatchard is a full service law firm with offices in Mt. Laurel and Trenton, New Jersey. The firm represents employers and businesses in a wide variety of areas, including workers’ compensation, civil litigation, labor, environmental, business, estates and governmental affairs.

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There Are 4 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Kim Martens says:

    John: Like your new “Blog” format. You are on the cutting edge!

    Kim

  2. Earl says:

    John,

    The new format is excellent! Now we can pick your brain all the time! 🙂

    Earl

  3. Corinne says:

    John, I enjoyed your new format and the old format as well…it seems as though this format is easier to read. Keep up the good work….

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