Plaintiff Yatana Walker is the CFO of an independent branch of the U.S. Treasury Department. Walker was pregnant. Walker informed Donna Gambrell, her supervisor, that she would not be at work on a particular day to due to a doctor's appointment. Later that same day, Walker's husband asked one of Walker's subordinates to convey to Gambrell that Walker was in the hospital having a miscarriage. The subordinate informed Gambrell's assistant. The assistant, in a highly emotional manner, informed Gambrell. Believing that other staff members had already learned of the situation, Gambrell gathered the 8th floor staff and contractors into a conference room to inform them that Walker had miscarried. Following the meeting, Gambrell sent an e-mail to all branch employees, contractors, and temporary employees informing them of the situation. Walker subsequently applied for, and was granted, FMLA leave.
Walker sued Gambrell for disclosing her miscarriage. She claimed that the disclosure interfered with her FMLA rights. As support, Walker cited the requirement that records and documents relating to medical histories of employees created for FMLA purposes must be maintained as confidential medical records in accordance with the ADA. 5 CFR 825.500(g). The court disagreed.
Even if violation of Sec. 825.500(g) gave rise to a private right of action (courts are split), the court found that Walker did not state a claim. The e-mail that Gambrell sent was not, as required, created for the purpose of documenting or maintaining a file on Walker's FMLA leave. Rather, it was drafted and sent to inform the staff of the reason for Walker's absence. Moreover, the ADA confidentially provisions apply to information secured as a result of an employer-requested medical examination or other employer inquiry. The information at issue was not obtained as a result of an employer-initiated examination or inquiry. Rather, Walker disclosed the reason for her leave voluntarily and not at the request or demand of her employer. The ADA, the court observed, does not protect an employee's voluntary disclosure of a medical condition.
The ADA and, therefore, the FMLA, confidential provisions do not, the court concluded, require that an employer keep secret medical information voluntarily disclosed by the employee in securing leave.
Comment: The FMLA/ADA confidentiality provisions do not mandate that an employer keep secret from others all medical information provided by employees. Unsolicited, voluntarily disclosed medical information offered by an employee may not be protected by the FMLA confidentially provisions. Having said that, to avoid costly and time consuming litigation, employers would be well advised to adopt clear policies prohibiting management from disclosing employee medical information except for legitimate business reasons, and then on a need-to-know basis.
Walker v. Gambrell, No. RWT 08-3065, 2009 U.S. LEXIS 60537 (D. Md. July 16, 2009)