Long-term disability application leads to Supreme Court privacy case p2

We are continuing our discussion of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. The case started with a man, HIV-positive and near death, applying for Social Security disability benefits. It ended with a majority decision that the Privacy Act does not allow damages for mental and emotional distress claims.

As we explained in our last post, the plaintiff here was a pilot when he learned he was HIV-positive. He didn’t renew his license or his medical certificate when he became seriously ill. When his health improved, he reapplied at a time when a medical exam was not required. However, he did not disclose his HIV status on his application.

When federal and local government investigators compared the names of pilots to lists of recipients of Social Security disability and other federal benefits, they uncovered almost 50 pilots with questionable records. Tagged as a “person of interest,” the plaintiff owned up to his omission.

Filing a false report with a government agency is a misdemeanor. The plaintiff’s sentence included probation, a fine and surrender of his pilot’s license. He thought the matter was closed.

It was not. His name appeared in a press release issued by the federal government. Because of the criminal charges filed against him, his medical history became a matter of public record. Suddenly, everyone knew his HIV status.

He said he had made sure only a handful of people knew. He was able to manage who knew and who did not — until the information was public. So he sued the government.

To be continued.

Source: Local10.com, “Supreme Court rejects damage claim in HIV privacy case,” Bill Mears, CNN, March 28, 2012

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