Disclosure Of Officer’s Psychological Records Can Support Claim For Breach Of Privacy Rights

Edward Lentz is a police officer for the City of Cleveland, Ohio. On December 6, 2001, Lentz was guarding the home of then-mayor-elect Jane Campbell. At approximately 8:30 a.m., a blue station wagon sped down the street and came to a screeching halt. As Lentz approached the vehicle, it backed away.

Lentz ordered the driver to stop, but the vehicle backed up, hit a tree, and drove towards him. At some point, Lentz ended up on the roof of the vehicle. While Lentz was on the roof, the vehicle sped away in a “zig-zagging fashion” towards a busy intersection. Lentz shot 14 rounds into the roof of the vehicle. The vehicle continued through an intersection and crashed into a yard.

The driver of the vehicle, who was struck by at least one of the shots fired by Lentz, was Lorenzo Locklear, a 12-year old African American male. Locklear had stolen the vehicle and had illegal drugs in his possession. His wounds were nonfatal. The passenger, Dontez Torres, a 14-year old African American male, was not harmed.

During the pendency of an investigation, Lentz was assigned to police gymnasium duty. After criminal and disciplinary charges against Lentz were dismissed, Lentz was returned to normal duty after spending 652 days on gymnasium duty.
Lentz brought a lawsuit against the City alleging, among other things, racial discrimination and a breach of his privacy rights. Rejecting the City’s motion to dismiss both claims, a federal trial court has allowed both claims to go to trial.

On the race discrimination claim, the Court found ample evidence raising the question as to whether the City maintained Lentz’s gymnasium duties for as long as it did because of Lentz’s race. As the Court described, “the evidence shows that Lentz’s reassignment to gym duty pending his investigation was more than twice as long as any other African American officer, who in the last seven years, used deadly force against an African American suspect while on duty. The Court recognizes that no shooting incident between an officer and a citizen will ever be exactly similar and that some investigations may take longer than others. However, an exact correlation is not required.” The Court concluded that Lentz had established a “prima facie case for reverse discrimination.”

On the privacy claim, Lentz argued that the City released confidential medical information about him, including a pre-employment psychological evaluation. The City contended that it could not be liable for an invasion of privacy claim because pre-employment psychological evaluations are not “medical records” under Ohio law and thus are subject to public disclosure under Ohio’s Public Records Law.

The Court found that the City’s argument was foreclosed by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the ADA, pre-employment psychological evaluations are defined as “confidential medical records.” The Court ruled that “to the extent that Ohio law states that pre-employment examinations are not medical records and subject to public disclosure, it directly conflicts with the ADA. Because the ADA, which is controlling, redefines pre-employment examinations as ‘confidential medical records’ and medical records are exempt from public disclosure under Ohio law, Lentz’s pre-employment psychological evaluations are not subject to public disclosure.”

Lentz v. City of Cleveland, 2006 WL 144636 (N.D.Ohio 2006).

This article appears in the March 2006 issue