HIV-plaintiff seeks anonymity in Aspen Valley Hospital lawsuit |

HIV-plaintiff seeks anonymity in Aspen Valley Hospital lawsuit

A former employee of Aspen Valley Hospital is seeking legal clearance to remain anonymous in his federal lawsuit against Aspen Valley Hospital, which is accused of outing him as HIV-positive.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

A man suing Aspen Valley Hospital for allegedly leaking his HIV-positive status has petitioned the court to keep his identity concealed to prevent what he says would bring him further humiliation.

Plaintiff “John Doe” filed a motion Monday in the U.S. District Court of Denver to allow him to continue use of the pseudonym.

“While legal proceedings are — and should be — presumptively public, this case presents one of the few exceptional circumstances under which the law allows a party to proceed anonymously,” says the motion.

The hospital, in a statement issued Tuesday, said for the time being it won’t challenge Doe’s motion seeking continued anonymity.

“As alleged in the Amended Complaint, Mr. Doe was purportedly a patient and former employee of AVH, and as such is entitled to certain protections,” the statement said. “Therefore, Mr. Doe is choosing to proceed under a pseudonym. AVH and its current and former employees who were named in the lawsuit have valid defenses to Mr. Doe’s claims, and we will have the opportunity to present those defenses at the appropriate time. Until we are able to do so, we will not contest Mr. Doe’s motion to keep his name confidential.”

Doe, a former hospital employee, sued the nonprofit, tax-supported organization in June on allegations that it violated patient-confidentiality laws and retaliated against him with a campaign of harassment and ultimately termination.

The suit accuses the hospital’s human resources manager, Alicia Miller, of outing him as HIV-positive over dinner with a colleague in Denver on Sept. 23, 2012. Miller found out about his HIV status when she was analyzing the health-insurance records of staff employees as a way to reduce costs for the self-insured hospital, the suit contends.

Doe, hired by the hospital in 2003, was promoted to an information technology technician position in 2013. But it wasn’t until 2014 that he learned that his colleagues knew about his condition.

His suit accuses the hospital of firing him in January 2015 after he complained to the hospital and the Office for Civil Rights and the Department of Labor. Prior to his complaints, he had received stellar reviews for his job performance, the suit says.

Anonymous filings are rare

Doe’s motion, filed by Denver attorney Mari Newman, acknowledges that courts aren’t prone to granting plaintiffs anonymity. But it also cites cases in which HIV-positive plaintiffs have been allowed to conceal their identities.

The motion references Doe. v. City of New York. In that case, the plaintiff, who was HIV-positive, sued the city for releasing information pertaining to his identity. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an “individual revealing that she is HIV seropositive potentially exposes herself not to understanding or compassion but to discrimination and intolerance, further necessitating the extension of the right to confidentiality over such information.”

Doe’s motion adds that he “was acutely aware of the continuing stigma” … “faced by those with HIV, so much so that aside from informing his sexual partners, Plaintiff did not reveal his diagnosis 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.”

The court’s denial of Doe’s request for anonymity also would deter other HIV-positive individuals from litigating over similar claims, the motion says.

“Proceeding under his real name would multiply this injury a million-fold as doing so effectively would publicly broadcast his HIV positive status to the world,” the motion says.

The hospital and the individual defendants — Miller, the human resources manager; IT Director Michelle Gelroth, in-house counsel Elaine Gerson, Dawn Gilkerson, the hospital’s HR specialist; and the hospital’s chief compliance officer, Stephen Knowles — have retained Denver-area attorney Leslie Miller. The defendants have until Sept. 6 to formally answer the complaint, according to court documents.

At the time of the suit’s filing, the hospital’s interim CEO, Terry Collins, said “the hospital will vigorously defend its actions at the appropriate time.”

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