A former employee of Aspen Valley Hospital District has sued the hospital in Denver U.S. District Court claiming his privacy rights were breached when it was disclosed he had HIV.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday on behalf of the man identified only as John Doe in documents by Denver attorneys Mari Newman, Darold Killmer and Eudoxie Dickey. It indicated that he was both an employee and patient at the hospital.
The lawsuit, which names the hospital and five of its employees including the hospital’s privacy officer as defendants, seeks an apology from the hospital, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorneys fees.
It also seeks policy chances at the hospital for breaching the employee’s privacy, the lawsuit says.
“All patients of Aspen Valley Hospital should be very alarmed by this revelation. When a hospital’s so-called ‘privacy officer’ feels free to disclose a patient’s most private and sensitive health information as cocktail-hour gossip, no Aspen Valley Hospital patient can assume that their medical privacy will be respected,” Newman said in a statement.
Doe worked as an information technology employee at the hospital beginning in 2003 for 11 years before he was fired, the lawsuit says.
“During his 11-year tenure at … (the hospital) plaintiff was an outstanding, respected, well-liked, dedicated and hardworking employee who consistently earned ‘exceeds’ and ‘outstanding’ performance evaluations,” the lawsuit says.
Defendants first breached Doe’s medical status in 2012 “as a piece of conversational gossip over drinks to human resources co-worker Marlene Saleeby in flagrant violation” of the hospital privacy rule mandated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1993, the lawsuit says. The employee spreading the information had learned it by reviewing “a very large claim about for his anti-viral medications.”
Doe learned of the breach and filed a complaint, which was denied after a “sham” investigation, according to the lawsuit. He then filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in June 2014. Two weeks later, the hospital disciplined Doe for the first time in 11 years in a “retaliatory act,” the lawsuit says.
Doe’s medical symptoms deteriorated as a result of the pressure, and he took a four-week medical leave of absence, the lawsuit says. Two days after his return, Doe was demoted, stripped of numerous responsibilities and his pay was reduced $1,800 a month, the lawsuit says.
Doe filed a third complaint because of the actions against him and scrutiny against him only increased until he was fired Jan. 22, 2015, the lawsuit says. The resulting loss of health coverage put him at increased risk, the lawsuit says.