A hospital lawfully terminated an employee for improperly accessing a co-worker’s lab results and refusing to admit to doing so, a federal district court in Mississippi has found in Cosby v. Vicksburg Healthcare, LLC D/B/A River Region Medical Center, et al., No. 5:11cv159-KS-MTP (S.D. Miss. May 16, 2013), rejecting the former employee’s claim of discrimination.  

The hospital found that six employees had accessed a co-worker’s medical record without a valid reason, in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”).  Four of the employees who admitted doing so were disciplined, but not discharged, while the plaintiff and the remaining employee, who both denied accessing the medical record, were dismissed.  The plaintiff sued, alleging that her termination constituted race and age discrimination, and was in retaliation for exercising her right to complain about unlawful actions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (the “ADEA”) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (the “FMLA”).  She also alleged various state law claims.

The court dismissed the race and age discrimination claims.  It concluded that the plaintiff’s termination for violating HIPAA and refusing to admit doing so was legitimate and nondiscriminatory.  The court also found the plaintiff failed to show that this was a pretext for the alleged discrimination, noting the hospital retained employees who were older than the plaintiff and who had admitted their offense, terminated her co-worker who was of a different race for the same offense, and replaced the plaintiff with a person of the same race and approximate age.  The court also found that the lab results to which the plaintiff had access were protected under HIPAA, rejecting her efforts to distinguish herself from the other employees who were disciplined and could access broader health information.  At most, the court concluded, this might suggest an error in terminating her, but it was insufficient to defeat the hospital’s summary judgment motion.  It was not the court’s province to second guess an employer’s non-discriminatory business decision.

The court also dismissed the various retaliation claims because the plaintiff failed to show she referenced race in any complaint to the hospital before her termination, provided no evidence of retaliation under the ADEA, and could not show a causal link between her termination and the alleged protected activity under the FMLA.  All of the plaintiff’s state court claims were dismissed also.