NEW ALBANY — A civil complaint has been filed by the U.S. government against the City of New Albany with the U.S. District court on behalf of a police officer, stating his rights were violated by disclosure of medical records.
The lawsuit, filed Friday, alleges that the City violated Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act when the information about the officer's medical history, including treatment and prescription information, was released during a public police merit commission meeting in October 2013.
According to court records, the complainant had served with the New Albany Police Department since 2005 before going on leave in May 2012. In October of the same year, Sherri Knight, then-chief of the department, told him a physician's letter explaining his absence was needed.
The officer submitted on Oct. 3 a physician's letter, which stated the officer could return to work Oct. 8, according to the complaint. Based on this letter, Knight then requested that the New Albany Merit Commission fire the officer. While considering the request, the merit board ordered medical evaluations by two different health care professionals.
In June 2013, Knight submitted to the board three formal written charges, which included information on the his mental health evaluation, treatment and prescriptions, to support request of the officer's termination. Two of the three charges were dropped, but the officer was let go from the department based on one of the charges — violating the department's rules and regulations for "incapacity," the News and Tribune previously reported.
But at a public merit commission meeting in October 2013, the board voted 4-1 to reinstate his employment, following medical evaluation results.
"It's hard for someone to say he's not fit for duty when three medical professionals say he is," the merit commission president at the time told the News and Tribune after the meeting.
Following the vote, Knight read aloud a prepared statement to the board and public, which included other officers and members of the press. The City's then-attorney, Laurie Kemp, spoke to the media after the meeting and referenced the officer's mental health capacity.
According to the complaint, the details of the officer's medical history that were made public at the meeting were restated in news coverage that followed it, and the complainant “suffered emotional distress, including depression and a loss of sleep, as a result of the public disclosure of his medical information,” the complaint states.
In 2014, the officer filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which was referred to the U.S. Department of Justice after mediation was not successful, according to court records.
According to Title I of the ADA, employers may “make inquiries into the ability of an employee to perform job-related functions and make inquiries into the nature and severity of the employee's disability, so long as the examination is job-related and consistent with business necessity.
“Information obtained as a result ... must be treated as a confidential medical record.”
New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan said that policies were updated following the EEOC complaint and findings.
“I can tell you the EEOC found that the police administration and the merit board at the time violated the police officer's rights by releasing protected information to the media,” Gahan said. "And we have made adjustments to our procedures and policies to make sure breaches won't occur in the future.
"We do our best to make sure we're letting everyone know what's going on and try to answer questions the best that we can and obviously in an effort to be transparent, we released protected information to the public. And we've taken steps to make sure that doesn't happen in the future."
Knight stepped down as New Albany Police Chief in 2014 and current Chief Todd Bailey referred the News and Tribune to the current New Albany City Attorney, Shane Gibson. Attempts to reach Gibson for comment by phone and email this week were unsuccessful.
In asking for restitution, the lawsuit seeks monetary damages be paid to the officer for pain and suffering. It also calls for the defendant to “revise its policies, practices and procedures so as to bring it into compliance with Title I of the ADA...,” and to make sure police and merit commission staff are trained in procedures related to handling personal information.
It also requests that any future applications for promotion by the complainant be reviewed “without unlawful consideration of his disability, medical history, EEOC charge or complaint of discrimination,” the lawsuit states.