Doctor who reveals patient used marijuana not to blame for employer’s reaction, Spectrum says
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – A doctor who told a patient’s employer she used medical marijuana isn’t to blame for subjecting the woman to an employee substance-abuse policy, Spectrum Heath Systems said.
The marijuana reference was contained in a doctor’s report authorizing medical leave for Lisa Richlich, a 12-year Gentex Corp. worker.
She resigned as a purchasing specialist after, she says, she was encouraged by Gentex to accept a severance package or undergo a substance-abuse program.
Spectrum has asked that her lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids be dismissed.
The lawsuit is based on alleged violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, but Spectrum said that any such violations can only be enforced by the government.
Richlich said she was prescribed medical marijuana by her primary physician for chronic pain.
She was granted leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, to undergo neck surgery, subject to certification by Dr. Todd Vitaz.
His office provided certification to Gentex that included “progress notes” stating she “uses illicit drugs (marijuana) about five times per week.”
Her attorney, Rhett Pinsky, said she rarely used it, and said she tested negative after Gentex requested she take a drug test two weeks after surgery. The company said she violated its drug policy.
Richlich contends she was “encouraged and pressured” by Gentex to accept a severance package.
She said she repeatedly asked Vitaz’s office to correct her medical history to show she used medical marijuana, and only rarely. The history was not changed.
She said she accepted the severance package, rather than be subjected to Gentex’s substance-abuse policy. She feared she would lose her job anyway without severance.
Spectrum attorney Brian Kilbane said the lawsuit should be dismissed.
“(Richlich) alleges negligence, invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress,” Kilbane wrote.
“By its express terms, HIPAA can only be enforced by a government actor. Consequently, this court does not have jurisdiction over a claim brought by a private citizen.”
He said that Vitaz, the doctor, was protecting her rights under the FMLA by providing her medical information, which included information about her medical-marijuana prescription, to Gentex.
“Given this and the protections afforded by FMLA, (Spectrum) could not, as a matter of law, have foreseen that Gentex would improperly use the information it received for disciplinary action against Ms. Richlich,” Kilbane wrote.
He said that Richlick harmed herself by choosing to resign and take the severance package.
He also said that information Richlich used marijuana was not false, nor broadcast beyond Gentex officials.
Gentex is not named as a defendant.