School Did Not Discriminate Based On Confidential Medical Information By Requiring Proof Of COVID-19 Vaccination Status Or Weekly Test Results

CATEGORY: Public Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Public Education
DATE: Sep 29, 2023

Gloria Elizabeth Rossi worked for Sequoia Union Elementary School, providing in-person classroom assistance to children with special needs and children who spoke Spanish as their primary language.  On August 11, 2021, the State Public Health Officer issued an order requiring K-12 schools to verify the COVID-19 vaccination status of all school workers, in order to protect unvaccinated students.  The health order stated that unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated workers must test at least once a week.  The order further stated that if a worker did not provide vaccine documentation, the School must consider them unvaccinated and require that they test weekly.  Rossi refused to disclose her COVID-19 vaccination status or to undergo weekly testing.  She told the School’s principal and superintendent, Ken Horn, that she did not consent to him obtaining or disclosing her medical information.  Horn gave her the option of working remotely, which she refused.  He placed her on unpaid leave in October 2021.  In July 2022, Horn terminated Rossi’s employment.

Rossi sued the School claiming they violated the Confidential Medical Information Act (CMIA).  The CMIA prevents health care professionals from disclosing a person’s medical information to third parties unless the patient signs an authorization to release medical information.  Rossi argued that the School violated CMIA Section 56.20, subdivision (b), which forbids employers from discriminating against employees who refuse to sign an authorization to release medical information to them.  She also argued that the School violated CMIA Section 56.20, subdivision (c), which says employers cannot use or disclose employees’ medical information without their consent.

The trial court dismissed Rossi’s case.  The trial court agreed with Rossi that requiring an employee to share her COVID-19 vaccination status or testing results is essentially the same as requiring her to sign an authorization to release medical information.  However, the CMIA says employers can take actions that are “necessary” when they do not have an employee’s medical information.  The trial court found that the Health Order made it necessary for the School to exclude workers who did not share their COVID-19 vaccination status or testing results.  The trial court also agreed with Rossi that the School used her medical information without her consent, because the School assumed she was unvaccinated and based decisions off that assumption.  However, the trial court said the CMIA allowed the School to do that because the CMIA says employers can disclose medical information if the law requires them to.

Rossi appealed the decision.  The Court of Appeal agreed with the School that the case should be dismissed but for different reasons than the trial court.  The Court of Appeal said that requiring Rossi’s COVID-19 vaccination status or testing results was different from requiring that she sign an authorization to release medical information.  Regardless, the Health Order required the School to exclude employees who did not provide their vaccination status or weekly test results, so the School’s actions were necessary and allowable.  The Court of Appeal also said that the School neither used nor disclosed Rossi’s medical information because the School never had her medical information in the first place.  The CMIA defines “medical information” as “individually identifiable information, in electronic or physical form, in possession of or derived from a provider of health care . . . regarding a patient’s medical history.”  The Court of Appeal ruled that an assumption does not fall within the CMIA definition of “medical information.”  The Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the School and dismissed Rossi’s lawsuit.

Rossi v. Sequoia Union Elementary School (Aug. 25, 2023, No. F085416) ___Cal.App.5th___ [2023 Cal. App. LEXIS 649].

View More News

Public Education Matters
Six School Districts Pass Transgender Parental Notification Policies
Public Education Matters
AB 1307 Helps Community College Districts Build More Student Housing