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Problem with ex-employer spreading medical information.
Jun 16, 2012

What if any recourse can I take if an ex-employer is spreading information about my status? She called the insurance assistance office in my area and asked what requirements are needed to get on the program,(knowing I was on the program). She is telling everyone she meets my status, we live in a small community and it is affecting my ability to work. Any information would be appreciated! Thank you,

Response from Ms. Douaihy

Dear writer,

I am really sorry to know that your former employer is sharing your private health information without your consent.

Your recourse depends on a couple of factors. Does your state have laws that protect HIV confidentiality? If so, did you disclose your HIV status to your former employer in a written authorization ("release") form? If this is your situation, you may have a cognizable complaint of breach of confidentiality and she may be held liable. Importantly, if your jurisdiction has an HIV confidentiality law, there will be a mandatory window of time to file your complaint. I urge you to consult with an attorney familiar with the laws of your state to learn more.

On the other hand, if you confided your HIV status to your former employer on a purely personal level and without a written release form, she may not be acting against state law. This is because, generally speaking, people who learn your HIV status absent an HIV release form are not mandated to keep your confidentiality.

Depending on the facts of your case, you may also want to look into the merits of a privacy tort claim. These are common law causes of action (as opposed to statutory based claims) of civil wrong/injury based on invasion of privacy. Based on your story, the most applicable cause of action is called "public disclosure of private facts". This cause of action, in general, requires satisfaction of three elements: (a) a private fact, (b) public disclosure of the private fact and (c) demonstration that the fact made public is one which would be highly offensive and objectionable to a reasonable person. However, a privacy lawsuit often requires extended litigation and a high burden of proof.

One other suggestion is to ask an attorney to send something a formal "cease and desist" letter to your former employer. This would 1) put her on notice that you are aware she is impermissibly publicizing private facts about you and 2) alerting her that her behavior is causing you harm.

To find an attorney in your area, I would advise reaching out first to the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the national organization overseeing free civil legal services organizations. There is at least one in ever state. You can learn more about LSC here.

Hang in there and I wish you all the best!



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