Magazine article Security Management


Magazine article Security Management


Article excerpt

In a recent decision, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed an employee to sue her company after her supervisor disclosed confidential medical information to coworkers and to another prospective employer.

In 1990, Diane Cossette was working part-time for Minnesota Power and Light (MP&L) and part-time as a waitress in a restaurant. While working at the restaurant, Cossette fell and injured her back. A doctor's examination revealed permanent damage, making Cossette eligible for partial workers compensation benefits. Because she was unable to continue in her position at MP&L, which required heavy lifting, the company transferred her to a desk job in its call center.

Three years later, Cossette was ordered to undergo intelligence testing at a local clinic. The testing was requested because, despite Cossette's positive job evaluations, her supervisor suspected that she suffered from literacy problems, dyslexia, and a low -intellectual capacity. The testing revealed normal cognitive and academic abilities.

During the time of the testing, Cossette requested a transfer to MP&L's office services department. At the company's request, she saw a doctor to determine whether she could meet the physical demands of the office clerk position. The doctor imposed a lifting restriction of 20 to 35 pounds.

After learning of Cossette's transfer request, the supervisor of the office services department, Joseph Burton, became concerned that Cossette's lifting restriction and her perceived intellectual problems would adversely affect morale. Burton sought the advice of MP&L's general counsel and human resources officer. They urged Burton to tell his subordinates about Cossette and her limitations. Burton then told his staff that their schedules and tasks would have to be altered to accommodate Cossette if she were hired.

Despite his reservations, Burton approved Cossette's transfer and she began working part-time in April 1993. She received favorable performance evaluations but complained that she was treated poorly by her coworkers, who were patronizing and hostile.

A year later, Cossette was notified that the U.S. Postal Service was considering her for a letter carrier's position. (Cossette had previously scored well on the written evaluation, but hiring freezes prevented the postal service from considering her application further. …

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