In 2016, Main Line Health Inc. based in Radnor, PA dismissed an employee named Gloria Terrell for a violation of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Rules. Terrell had viewed the personal files of a co-worker two times without authorization. According to Main Line Health, the termination was for “co-worker snooping.” In instances where employees are found to have accessed employee or patient files without proper authorization, disciplinary action is usually taken with termination a likely outcome.
Terrell submitted an internal appeal against her dismissal and said she viewed the files of the co-worker just to get a phone number. Terrell said she wanted to call the co-worker to ensure that a shift would be covered. She considered that a legitimate business reason for her to access the file, as she could not find the directory of employees’ telephone numbers.
After terminating Terrell, Main Line Health hired a considerably younger individual to take her position. Terrell filed a case against Main Line Health on September 2016 for age discrimination. In the case, Terrell stated Main Line Health had experienced similar snooping incidents and did not terminate younger workers. Terrell stated she knew three younger employees who committed HIPAA violations but were not terminated by Main Line Health.
The case of Gloria Terrell v. Main Line Health, Inc., et al was sent to federal court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for summary judgement. Main Line Health explained that employees are provided with appropriate training on HIPAA Rules and company policies. On several occasions, employees had been made aware of the established policies associated with the security of the private information of employees and patients. Those policies also state clearly that there will be appropriate disciplinary action if company guidelines and HIPAA Rules are broken, which includes immediate termination of employment. Main Line Health firmly stated that Terrell was dismissed from work because of a legitimate, non-discriminatory cause.
A summary judgment was issued by U.S District Court Judge Richard Barclay Surrick in favor of Main Line Health, in which he explained that Terrell had failed to establish a viable age discrimination claim. Terrell claimed that co-workers had not been fired for HIPAA violations, but was unable to provide any evidence to back up her claims. The employees concerned denied having violated HIPAA Rules.
Further, the plaintiff did not present any evidence that would lead a factfinder to arrive at the conclusion that Main Line Health had fired her because of her age. However, Judge Surrick did suggest that one may have reservations about the firing of an employee with the plaintiff’s experience for simply obtaining a phone number which had already been provided to co-workers in paper form, but it is not the responsibility of the courts to examine a healthcare organization’s business decisions.