APWU, NALC Sue USPS and Inspector General Over Invasion of Medical-Records Privacy

January 22, 2008

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The American Postal Workers Union and the National Association of Letter Carriers have filed suit against the Postal Service and the Office of Inspector General for systematic and widespread intrusions into the medical records of postal employees.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on Jan. 17, asserts that, beginning in 2006, the USPS Office of Inspector General (OIG) began surreptitiously seeking and obtaining the medical records of postal workers directly from doctors and hospitals that had provided medical services to postal employees. The practice continues, with the OIG claiming that it has a right to review the records as part of oversight or investigatory activities.

The suit alleges that the OIG has routinely instructed medical providers that they must submit records to the OIG and that they should refrain from notifying affected employees that the records have been requested by the OIG.

In suing the Postal Service and the OIG, the unions’ suit asserts that these practices constitute an unlawful invasion of privacy; they extend beyond the authority of the OIG; they violate postal workers’ constitutionally protected right to privacy; and they amount to unreasonable searches and seizures in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

In support of the suit, the unions also cite the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). That legislation, which was intended to streamline medical recordkeeping, also established strong privacy rights protecting Americans from the invasion of their medical records.

Commenting on the suit, APWU President Bill Burrus said:

I am outraged that OIG would use the tactics of a police state to investigate workers compensation or sick-leave cases. The OIG has no legitimate business investigating routine personnel matters. The use of these methods demands the strongest possible response. 

The unions are asking the court to declare that the practice is illegal and to issue an injunction against the Postal Service and the Office of Inspector General. 

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