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Pilot Can’t Sue Agency that Revealed HIV Status

(CN) - An airline pilot cannot sue the government for revealing that he is HIV-positive, the 9th Circuit ruled this week, reversing itself based on a recent Supreme Court decision.

Seeking damages for violations of the Privacy Act, Stanmore Cawthorn Cooper claimed that the Federal Aviation Administration, Social Security Administration and Department of Transportation had improperly exchanged information about his HIV status during a joint criminal investigation into whether he had lied about his health to keep his FAA certification. Cooper claimed that he had withheld information because he feared he would face discrimination as a gay man with HIV.

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco initially ruled for the government, finding that the Privacy Act does not allow damages for Cooper's claims of mental and emotional harm, only for economic loss. A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit reversed on appeal with a more expansive reading of the law.

The case went to the Supreme Court, which reversed again in March. Finding that the Privacy Act was not unequivocal on the subject of damages, the high court deferred to the District Court's reading.

In a brief order published Thursday, the 9th Circuit did the same, affirming the District Court without further comment.

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