Court: Federal, State and HIPAA Law Doesn't Prohibit Employment Records Release

January 21, 2005 ( - A federal judge has ruled that state law, federal confidentiality law and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) do not prohibit the disclosure of employment records in a discrimination lawsuit.

>In Beard v. City of Chicago , US District Judge Sidney Schenkier of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, a terminated fire department paramedic has won the right to have other employees’ records regarding leave of absences, psychological and substance abuse disclosed in court. City of Chicago officials had argued that federal, state and HIPAA law prohibited such action from being taken.

>In ruling that the information could be disclosed, Schenkier said that HIPAA covered entities are subject to the privacy rule, and the employer was not a covered entity in this case. The judge also said that the employer held leave records in its role as an employer, and thus such records are not subject to the act. Schenkier also ruled that the privacy rule allows covered entities to release protected health information in court when certain conditions are met, which in this case, they were.

>Schenkier rejected the claim that federal substance abuse law prohibited the release of the records, since she claimed the employer did not meet the criteria laid out. The law relates to the protection of records relating to a substance abuse program or activity that is conducted, regulated or assisted by the federal government.

>Finally, the judge ruled that state law did not prohibit the release of such records because all the employee’s claims were based on federal law and not state law. Schenkier did suggest that the federal psychotherapist-patient privilege might apply to certain leave records, directing the employer to individually view each record to determine if this is the case.

>The judge did however recommend that the two parties find a way to limit distribution of the records.