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Can my Employer obtain my Medical Records for Purposes of Title VII Emotional Distress Damages?

Introduction

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) protects against discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. There are many different bases for bringing a claim under Title VII, including but not limited to, disparate terms and conditions of employment based on a protected characteristic, discriminatory termination, discriminatory failure to promote, discriminatory failure to hire, and retaliation.
If an employee is successful on the merits of his or her Title VII claim at trial, then that employee may be eligible to recover damages awarded by a judge or jury. There are different types of damages an employee may be entitled too, including back wages, compensatory damages, punitive damages, interest, and attorneys’ fees and costs. Back wages compensate an employee for the wages that they have lost since their termination, demotion, or other adverse employment action that resulted in a decrease in wages. Compensatory damages are those that compensate an employee for other losses suffered from the adverse employment action beyond back wages, such as emotional distress damages. Punitive damages are those that punish the employer for the unlawful actions. When seeking to recover emotional distress damages, an employee’s medical history and records may be discoverable by the employer-defendant.

Emotional Distress Damages

Emotional distress damages compensate employees for the emotional harm they have suffered because of the unlawful employment action taken against them. These emotional distress damages can be established through specific medical conditions that developed because of the adverse employment action, or the employee can allege the “garden variety” type, such as mental anguish, embarrassment, or humiliation. If an employee asserts that they developed a specific medical condition because of the adverse employment action, the employee puts his or her mental or emotional health “at issue,” meaning the employer will be entitled to discover the employee’s medical records during discovery. However, if the employee asserts the “garden variety” type of damages, then the employer is not entitled to discover the employee’s medical records because the employee’s mental or emotional state is not “at issue.” If an employee is asserting that he or she developed a specific medical condition, such as Anxiety or Depression, due to the adverse employment action, that employee should be prepared to release medical records supporting his or her position that the employer’s adverse action caused the condition(s).

If you feel your rights under Title VII have been violated, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Wrady Michel & King. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 319-9724. We are here to serve you.