Lambda Legal Urges Supreme Court to 'Give Full Force to Privacy Act'

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Man Seeks Recognition of Non-Financial Damages After Three Federal Agencies Disclosed His HIV Status


Hayley Gorenberg

"What actually happens when the government violates your privacy doesn't usually hit you in the wallet; it hits you personally."

(New York, October 5, 2011) - Late yesterday, Lambda Legal filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of itself and 16 other LGBT, HIV and health advocacy organizations urging the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm a lower court ruling finding that the federal Privacy Act protects against illegal disclosures that result in suffering unrelated to financial losses.

"The language of the statute is clear - the Privacy Act covers 'actual damages,'" said Hayley Gorenberg, Deputy Legal Director for Lambda Legal, "And what actually happens when the government violates your privacy doesn't usually hit you in the wallet; it hits you personally. We urge the Court to uphold the full force of the Privacy Act."

The brief argues that the federal Privacy Act was intended to cover nonpecuniary harms, meaning that the disclosure of private medical information without consent often has significant personal impact on community standing, physical and emotional safety, and family and professional relationships. Lambda Legal and the other amici argue that such unlawful violations, if proved, must be compensated under the act.

The case before the U.S. Supreme Court was brought initially by Stanmore Cooper, who disclosed his HIV status to the Social Security Administration (SSA) in applying for long-term disability benefits. Cooper sought redress in court after his HIV status was wrongfully shared among the SSA, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the U.S. Department of Transportation, all without his consent. Mr. Cooper did not claim financial injuries; rather, he presented witnesses and documentation to show his psychological harm.

The brief was filed on behalf of AIDS Foundation Chicago, AIDS Legal Referral Panel, APICHA, Inc., Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, Gay City Health Project, Global Network of People Living with HIV, HIV Law Project, Interior AIDS Association, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., Legal Action Center, Metro TeenAIDS, National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Immigrant Justice Center, National Women's Health Network, Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Whitman-Walker Health.

The case is Cooper v. FAA.

Click here to read the brief.

Hayley Gorenberg, Deputy Legal Director for Lambda Legal, is handling this matter for Lambda Legal.



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Contact: Jonathan Adams 212-809-8585 ext 267;

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.