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Kentucky Supreme Court Rules Doctor Could Disclose Man's HIV Status to Employer for Workers' Compensation Claim

March 21, 2005

The Kentucky Supreme Court on Thursday ruled 4-3 that workers' compensation laws allow a doctor to disclose a patient's HIV status to an employer for workers' compensation claims, the AP/Lexington Herald-Leader reports. The case involved Steven Barnett, an HIV-positive veterinary assistant who was bitten by a cat on the job and sought medical care. Dr. Julio Melo, an infectious disease specialist who treated Barnett, informed Barnett's employer of his HIV status after he filed a workers' compensation claim. Barnett later quit his job, saying that "the office environment had become uncomfortable" after his HIV status was revealed, and sued Melo for privacy violations, according to the AP/Herald-Leader. The court ruled that state workers' compensation laws require disclosure of health matters, including HIV status, to employers who have financial responsibility for an employee's injury. Justice William Graves wrote for the court majority, saying, "By seeking benefits under the act, Barnett placed his medical condition in issue," adding, "Since the employer was required by law to pay the work-related medical bills, the very same law gave the employer the right to know the pertinent medical information." Justice Will Scott in a dissenting opinion that was joined by two other justices said that Melo did not have to disclose Barnett's HIV status to comply with workers' compensation laws, according to the AP/Herald-Leader (Chellgren, AP/Lexington Herald-Leader, 3/17).

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