Court Asked to Protect Workers

Eric Thompson should be able to sue his former employer North American Stainless for being fired in 2003 in retaliation for his then-fiancée and co-worker Miriam Relagado filing a workplace discrimination claim, NASW asserted in an amicus brief filed in September with the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the matter of Thompson v. North American Stainless, lower courts ruled that anti-retaliation protections afforded by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bans workplace discrimination, apply only to employees personally engaged in a protected activity — in this case, the filing of the workplace discrimination claim with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

NASW disagrees. “Because such [third-party] victims have suffered tangible employment injury, they are ‘persons aggrieved,’” the association said in its brief, insisting that the lower courts’ ruling “significantly, unnecessarily, and unwisely undercuts Title VII’s anti-retaliation protections.”

NASW warned that limiting Title VII anti-retaliation protections “chills protected activity because workers considering such activity cannot be confident that their friends and family will be protected from reprisal.”

NASW added that the lower courts’ rulings create uncertainty about who can file a complaint, potentially increasing the number of complaints. “This hardly seems an efficient or wise approach to anti-discrimination enforcement, as it would mean that the EEOC — and employers — would be flooded by otherwise unnecessary charges,” the brief said.

The association also pointed out that discrimination in the workplace remains a significant issue of national concern. “Workers — especially women in traditionally male jobs — continue to suffer discrimination and face substantial pressures to remain silent rather than report such discrimination,” the brief stated.

The National Women’s Law Center prepared the brief, which NASW joined along with several prominent women’s rights organizations.

Oral arguments before the eight-justice panel — newly installed Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself from the case — are scheduled for Dec. 7.

“Concerns about the protection of client privacy are on the rise as health records are increasingly made available in multiple electronic formats,” begins the NASW Legal Defense Fund’s September Legal Issue of the Month.

The article reviews existing and emerging standards for responding to privacy breaches involving social workers’ client information stored in electronic systems, including an overview of state laws and federal regulations.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations issued last year create a strong incentive for health care entities to encrypt electronic client data.

Indeed, “Use of encryption may be one of the most highly recommended security steps and social workers who ignore the use of this highly available technology may do so at the risk of more onerous reporting requirements and serious consequences should they experience a privacy breach,” the article says.

NASW’s Code of Ethics states that social workers should protect the confidentiality of clients’ electronic records and “take precautions to ensure and maintain the confidentiality of information transmitted to other parties. ... Disclosure of identifying information should be avoided whenever possible.”