Aspen Valley Hospital responds to ex-employee’s HIV-outing suit |

Aspen Valley Hospital responds to ex-employee’s HIV-outing suit

Aspen Valley Hospital has responded to a federal complaint that accuses its administrators of outing an employee as HIV positive.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

An attorney for Aspen Valley Hospital introduced a combination of six answers and motions Tuesday in response to a former employee’s federal lawsuit accusing administrators of outing him as HIV-positive.

Four motions, filed on behalf of the hospital and three of its employees who are defendants, seek the suit’s dismissal. The two answers to the complaint — one from defendant Alicia Miller, the hospital’s human resources manager, the other from the hospital’s chief compliance officer, Stephen Knowles — deny most of the allegations in the lawsuit made by an anonymous plaintiff referred to as “John Doe.”

Miller’s answer concedes she “inadvertently disclosed” Doe’s condition to a colleague Sept. 23, 2012. However, the employee’s “HIV status is common knowledge in the community,” the answer says.

The filings, made by Centennial labor and employment attorney Leslie E. Miller, marked the hospital’s first formal responses to the complaint, which was introduced in the U.S. District Court of Denver in June.

Doe’s suit accuses the hospital of violating patient-confidentiality laws when Miller informed another employee about his HIV status. His suit also says the hospital retaliated against him after he complained to the hospital and the Office for Civil Rights and the Department of Labor. Doe, who was hired by the hospital in 2004 and promoted to an information technology technician in 2013, was fired in January 2015, despite exceptional job-performance reviews he had previously received, his suit says.

Miller learned about Doe’s condition when she inspected the health-insurance records of staff employees as a way to cut costs for the self-insured hospital, the lawsuit alleges.

Miller’s answer says that was not the case.

“Defendant Miller denies that she learned of Plaintiff’s HIV positive status by reviewing any individual health records,” her response says.

Other defendants include IT Director Michelle Gelroth, in-house counsel Elaine Gerson and Dawn Gilkerson, the hospital’s HR specialist. Those three employees, in addition to the hospital itself, filed motions to dismiss the suit.

The motions essentially contend that the public hospital and its employees are subject to state immunity, and Doe’s claims fail to meet the legal standard that would exempt the defendants from the rule.

“AVH is an accredited hospital,” the hospital’s motion to dismiss says. “Further, because it is a hospital, there are privacy policies as well as anti-retaliation policies. Like every organization, AVH strives to ensure compliance with those policies.”

The court has allowed the employee to continue use of the “John Doe” pseudonym. In July, Doe filed an uncontested motion to use the alias because of the stigma “faced by those with HIV.” His suit says he concealed his HIV status “even to close family members or friends, and he took multiple steps to keep his private health information securely confidential in connection with his medical treatment at Defendant Aspen Valley Hospital.”

Doe’s attorney, Mari Newman of Denver, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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