Medical Privacy Claim Under ADA Requires Proof Of Damages

Cheryl Russell was a dispatcher with the City of Mobile, Alabama Police Department. Russell sued the City, claiming that it engaged in an improper medical inquiry in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Under the ADA, an employer can only obtain medical information about an employee if it has reasons that are “job related and consistent with business necessity.”

An appeals court found that even if an employer improperly obtains medical information from or about an employee, a lawsuit under the ADA only exists if the employee show damages – emotional, pecuniary, or otherwise – resulting from the breach of the ADA’s medical privacy provisions. The Court ruled that “Russell has not shown that the record supports her claim that she suffered any injury or damages from any alleged improper medical inquiry. As a potential injury resulting from the allegedly improper inquiry, Russell points to the heated conversation with Mobile Police Department Lt. Sybil Thomas, alleging that she felt faint and had to request medical attention, but that argument mischaracterizes the record. According to the affidavits of other employees, the heated conversation with Thomas was unrelated to the medical inquiry, and, rather, concerned an internal complaint that Russell had lodged against another employee.

“As for Russell’s assertion that a jury should be allowed to decide whether other symptoms that she suffered – namely, depression and mood changes – were the proximate result of the alleged privacy violation, we are unpersuaded. Russell testified that she suffered those particular symptoms because of her Graves’ disease, and nothing else in the record suggests that she suffered depression or any other malady because of the alleged privacy violation.”

Russell v. City of Mobile Police Department, 2014 WL 114128 (11th Cir. 2014).