Do ADA confidentiality provisions attach without an inquiry into job performance ability?


Shannon notified his supervisor that he needed to take FMLA leave to see a doctor regarding a disorder that was causing him to act out his dreams during his sleep. Shannon believed that he was required to disclose this information in order to keep his job. His supervisor subsequently told another employee that Shannon took the afternoon off to “see his crazy doctor.” At a departmental meeting the following day, the supervisor announced that Shannon missed work the previous afternoon to go to the “crazy doctor.” Shannon now contends that he has suffered severe emotional distress and anxiety as a result of the disclosure. He has sued your organization and his supervisor claiming that they violated the confidentiality provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Will he be successful?


No. In a case with similar facts, a federal trial court ruled that medical information voluntarily disclosed to an employer and subsequently disseminated by a supervisor to other employees does not trigger the nondisclosure provisions of the ADA because the information was not derived through the employer’s inquiry into the employee’s ability to perform his job duties. To prove his case, the employee had to show that knowledge of his medical condition was obtained by his employer pursuant to an inquiry into his ability to perform his job and that the employer did not maintain the confidentiality of the information. Even if it were company policy to provide the information regarding the absence from work, there was “no evidence of an ‘inquiry’ sufficient to invoke the ADA” and, therefore, the supervisor’s failure to keep the information private did not violate the ADA.

Source: Shannon Brent Centers v Hitachi Automotive Systems Americas, Inc (EDKy 2012) No. 11-137-KSF.

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