Lambda Legal filed this amicus brief in support of Doe’s petition for a rehearing of his appeal before the full Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. The brief argues that a physician at the Department of Veterans Affairs violated the federal Privacy Act when he disclosed the HIV positive status of an employee, Doe, to another employee.
While the Privacy Act prohibits employees at federal agencies from disclosing “any record in a system of records” to anyone without the consent of the person to whom the record pertains, the Eighth Circuit has adopted a strict interpretation of the Privacy Act that requires the person revealing the information to have retrieved it directly from the individual’s medical records. This strict interpretation limited Doe’s ability to bring a claim because, although Doe had revealed his status to the physician during the course of medical treatment and the physician recorded the information in Doe’s medical record, the physician revealed Doe’s status to another employee from memory. The brief argues that the Eighth Circuit’s limited interpretation contravenes the legislative purpose behind the Act as well as recent holdings in other circuits. It documents the prevalence of stigma and discrimination from which people with HIV suffer and argues that there is a substantial interest in maintaining confidentially around their positive status, especially in the employment setting. Ultimately, the brief argues that the Privacy Act protects information that a federal employee obtains and records for the purposes of a medical history, and therefore, protected Doe’s HIV status.