Husband’s Medical Records Must Be Disclosed To Former Employer In Employee’s Lawsuit Based On FMLA

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) did not prevent disclosure of medical records to his wife’s former employer in a wrongful termination suit because the husband’s medical condition was a central issue in the litigation, a federal district court has ruled in Tavares v. Lawrence & Memorial Hospital (D.Conn, 3:11-CV-770 (CSH)). The employee, nurse Lori Tavares, claimed that her employer, Lawrence & Memorial Hospital (L & M), terminated her for taking family medical leave to care for her husband after surgery. L & M claimed that Tavares abused the leave by taking a vacation to Mexico.

Medical records. At first, L & M sought discovery of the medical records of both the employee and her husband. After Tavares’ attorney objected, however, L & M narrowed the request to the records and deposition testimony of the neurosurgeon that performed the husband’s back surgery. The neurosurgeon had provided a letter stating that spending time in a warmer climate was helpful to the husband’s recovery from spinal fusion surgery and that he continued to require his wife’s assistance while he was away.

Tavares’ attorney argued that the husband’s medical records were protected from disclosure under HIPAA and were not relevant because he was not a party to the litigation. L & M contended that the husband’s medical condition was key to the determination whether Tavares was wrongfully terminated for misuse of her leave under the FMLA.

Protective order. The court agreed. It entered a protective order limiting disclosure of the husband’s condition to the period between his injury and the date that L & M terminated Tavares’ employment. The information may not be used for any purpose other than the litigation of this dispute, and the employer must destroy it or return it to Tavares when the litigation is concluded.

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