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Disclosure of Confidential Medical Information is a Bad Idea

Complying with its obligation to provide leave to an employee under the Family and Medical Leave Act was not enough to overcome liability for an employer that disclosed confidential health information.

Scott Holtrey suffered from a serious and chronic health condition that involved his genito-urinary system. Mr. Holtrey was permitted to take his requested leave under the FMLA. In applying for leave to undergo treatment, he included detailed information to support his request. A management level employee at the Collier County Board of Commissioners where Mr. Holtrey worked, allegedly shared his information at a staff meeting where eight of his co-workers were present. These co-workers made fun of Mr. Holtrey’s condition with jokes and obscene gestures. Mr. Holtrey complained but the harassment continued.

Mr. Holtrey sued, claiming that Collier County had interfered with his FMLA leave by disclosing his private information to staff that had no need to know. The Florida district trial court held that Mr. Holtrey should be allowed to pursue his claim, finding that “the enforcing labor regulation [for the FMLA] makes clear that confidentiality of medical information is a right provided and protected under the FMLA.” Thus, even though Mr. Holtrey had taken all of his leave, his workplace environment after the breach of confidentiality could still be found to have “materially affected” his working conditions.