HIV-Positive Postal Worker's Privacy Suit Gets New Life

February 12, 2003 ( - An HIV-positive postal worker got a second chance from a recent federal appeals court ruling to sue the US Postal Service (USPS) for allegedly releasing the details of his condition to his coworkers.

The US Circuit Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled that postal worker “John Doe” deserved a chance in court to prove his allegations that the USPS improperly disclosed the contents of his medical certification under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), according to a Thompson Publishing story.

The appeals judges threw out a lower court decision dismissing the lawsuit because of insufficient evidence that the coworkers’ knowledge of the plaintiff’s health information stemmed from his FMLA submittal. Doe’s circumstantial evidence that the disclosures occurred after his FMLA request and were attributed to a manager responsible for reviewing such requests was sufficient to avoid immediate dismissal, the appellate court ruled. The appeals court sent the matter back to a US District Court judge for trial.

According to the court records, John Doe submitted the FMLA certification in response to a threat of disciplinary action for missing several weeks of work. Although Doe had never revealed his status at work beforehand, he alleged, it was “common knowledge” among his coworkers when he returned.

Doe sued the USPS under the Privacy Act and the Rehabilitation Act, both of which restrict federal agencies’ disclosure of personal information. The case is Doe v. US Postal Service , No. 01-5395 D.C. Cir., Feb. 7, 2003.