Published February, 2003

Doe v. United States Postal Service, 317 F.3d 339 (D.C. Cir. 2003)

Reversing the lower court’s dismissal of a U.S. Postal Service employee’s claim, the D.C. Circuit found that a jury could reasonably conclude that compelling an employee to disclose his HIV status in order to apply for medical leave, and then disclosing the employee’s HIV status to his co-workers, is a violation of both the Privacy Act and the Rehabilitation Act. In this case, an HIV-positive postal service employee sought medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) when he had an extended absence from work due to HIV-related illness. He was asked about the reason for his request, and was required to disclose his HIV status in order for his request to be considered. After filing his request, several co-workers told him that they knew about his HIV status, and that a supervisor in the office was the one who had disclosed the information. The court concluded that the confidential records provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as incorporated by the Rehabilitation Act, was applicable in this case because the employer made an inquiry into his medical condition; the employee did not disclose the information voluntarily. According to the court, if filing an FMLA request were considered a voluntary disclosure of information, and thus not protected, employees would be forced to choose between protecting their confidentiality and exercising their rights to FMLA leave and reasonable accommodations based on their disability. Such a result “ would run directly counter to Congress’s purpose in enacting the ADA, which was, at least in part, to permit employers to inquire into employees’ medical conditions in order to provide reasonable accommodations, while avoiding subjecting employees to the ‘blatant and subtle stigma’ that attaches to ‘being identified as disabled.’”