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.