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Walgreens Faces Liability|for Outing Worker’s HIV

(CN) - A former Walgreens employee can sue the pharmacy and her co-workers, who accessed the store's customer database to learn her HIV-positive status and then publicly discussed the woman's condition, a Tennessee appeals court ruled.

While Jane Doe was working as a pharmacy technician at a Walgreens in Memphis, she wanted to shield her HIV status from co-workers and filled her medication prescriptions at another of the store's branches.

In late August 2004, Grady Saxton, the pharmacy manager and Doe's supervisor, told Doe that he overheard other employees discussing Doe's HIV status. Saxton then called Doe's fiance to divulge the status.

Four day's later, Paris Ghoston, who also worked at Walgreens and was going to be a bridesmaid in Doe's wedding, admitted that she accessed Walgreens' customer information database to confirm Doe's HIV status.

Ghoston and another co-worker then told Doe they would not be bridesmaids at her wedding, and Doe quit her job at Walgreens.

Doe and her fiance sued Walgreens, Saxton and Ghoston, but a circuit judge dismissed their complaint, finding that they could only find redress under the Workers' Compensation Act.

Walgreens and Doe's co-workers argued that Doe's injury was a workplace accident.

The appellate court in Jackson reversed the lower court's decision because Doe's claim arises out of her status as a Walgreens' customer and not an employee.

"Tennessee law is clear that, if an employee suffers an accident in the course of employment, it does not necessarily follow that the injury arose out of his or her employment," Judge J. Steven Stafford wrote for the court.

He added: "The fact that it was Ms. Doe's records that were accessed does not hinge upon Ms. Doe being an employee of Walgreens; rather, it hinges upon her status as a customer, which is the reason her records were in the system at all. Although the fact that Ms. Doe was an employee of Walgreens may have provided the reason for her co-workers to access her information, this does not answer the question of whether Ms. Doe's injuries arise out of her employment." (Italics in original.)

The court also found that the dissemination of Doe's HIV status was not an "accident."

"We can reasonably infer that the alleged injuries arose from the deliberate acts of Dr. Saxton and Ms. Ghoston and not as a result of any accidental discovery or dissemination of Ms. Doe's prescription records," Stafford wrote. "Further, because these deliberate acts lacked any medical, legal, business, or job related justification, it is reasonable to infer that they were made with the actual intent to injure the appellants."

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