Why it matters: Providing an important lesson to employers, a federal court in Indiana allowed an employee’s Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit to move forward based upon a manager’s Facebook post that referenced his medical condition. Although the employer argued that it could not be liable because the employee had voluntarily and publicly disclosed his condition in a separate lawsuit filed prior to the post, the court said a question of fact remained as to how the manager acquired her knowledge of the employee’s medical condition. Denying the employer’s motion to dismiss, the court further rejected the argument that the employee failed to allege a tangible injury based on the post, holding that allegations of both emotional injury and that prospective employers refused to hire him were sufficient. If employers don’t already have a social media policy in place addressing the problems with such posts, this case offers a good reminder

Detailed Discussion

George Shoun filed two lawsuits against his former employer, Best Formed Plastics. After falling and injuring his shoulder while on the job, he filed his first suit in Indiana state court on February 14, 2013.

Five days later, a manager at the company posted the following on her Facebook page: “Isn’t [it] amazing how Jimmy experienced a 5 way heart bypass just one month ago and is back to work, especially when you consider George Shoun’s shoulder injury kept him away from work for 11 months and now he is trying to sue us.” The post remained on her page for 76 days.

Shoun’s second lawsuit alleged that the Facebook post violated the confidentiality provisions of the ADA. The manager’s role at the company was processing workers’ compensation claims, a position, Shoun said, that required her to monitor his medical treatment and learn the nature and extent of his injury.

Shoun claimed that the manager’s Facebook page is linked to her business e-mail address and is available to the business communities in his region.

Best Formed Plastics moved to dismiss the ADA suit, arguing that it could not be liable as Shoun voluntarily disclosed his medical condition to the public in his first complaint. As a backup position, the employer argued that Shoun failed to allege any tangible injury from the alleged ADA violation.

Section 102 of the ADA provides that information relating to a medical condition of an employee obtained by an employer must be treated as a confidential medical record. To state a claim for violation of the confidentiality provision, a plaintiff must allege “that his employer obtained his medical information through employment-related medical examinations and inquiries, the information obtained through such means was disclosed by the employer rather than treated as confidential . . . and he suffered a tangible injury as a result of the disclosure,” the court explained.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Miller found that Shoun met all three requirements.

While the court took judicial notice of Shoun’s first complaint, the Judge held that a question of fact remained as to whether he voluntarily publicized his medical condition outside the context of an authorized employment-related medical examination or injury prior to his complaint. By alleging that the manager learned of his condition on the job, Shoun set forth sufficient facts to allege a violation of the confidentiality provisions of the ADA, the court held.

Further, Shoun alleged a tangible injury in two different ways: by claiming he suffered emotional injury and that prospective employers refused to hire him because of the post, “both of which have been recognized as tangible injuries under the ADA.”

The court denied Best Formed Plastics’ motion to dismiss.

To read the opinion in Shoun v. Best Formed Plastics, Inc., click here.