Release of Random Drug Testing Results Raise HIPAA Challenge

Fire Lieutenant Shawn Baptist was fired last year from the Zephyrhills, Florida Fire Department after he allegedly failed a random drug test on February 23, 2009. He is challenging the termination as well as the results of the test through grievance arbitration. In addition he filed suit last week alleging the public release of his medical tests violated HIPAA and state medical privacy laws.

Baptist claims that both Fire Chief Keith Williams and City Manager Steve Spina at various times told the media that he was fired because he failed a random drug test.

Spina is quoted as saying "When you are a public safety officer and you get fired for a certain reason, that's the public's business…. There was no intent to violate his privacy… But when you work for a public agency in a high-profile position, those things are public record."

Apparently Spina is not familiar with HIPAA, which even protects celebrities and public figures. He further seems to confuse the law related to medical confidentiality with the unrelated legal principle of  defamation, which sets a higher standard when dealing with public figures. Finally, he is wrong about state public record laws, which universally provide an exception to the public's right to know when it comes to the confidentiality of medical information.

And did I happen to mention that Baptist is also the President of the Zephyrhills Firefighter Union?  How much that is impacting the case is hard to say, but the parties are reported to be at an impasse in negotiations. As a fire lieutenant, Baptist makes $34,534 a year.

According to Baptist "If they wanted to make a comment that I was terminated, that's one thing…. But to say why, that's against federal and state law." I’d say that Baptist has a much better handle on the law than Spina.

For more on the case.

And more.   And More.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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