Pilot Wins Appeal Over Health Record Disclosure

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A Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Social Security Administration acted improperly when it turned over a pilot's medical records to the FAA. To receive medical benefits, Stanmore Cooper disclosed his condition (HIV-positive) to Social Security officials, but, for years, did not disclose it while renewing his certificate. Cooper later claimed he feared that disclosure of the information would result in discrimination in the workplace. But when the government launched "Operation Safe Pilot," to identify and investigate FAA certificated pilots who were also receiving disability benefits, Cooper's records were swept up along with some 45,000 pilots in Northern California. Investigators found conflicts within Cooper's records, shared information between agencies, and took him to court. Cooper entered a guilty plea and was convicted of making and delivering a false writing. He paid a $1,000 fine. But he then sued, claiming his right to privacy had been violated, resulting in embarrassment, mental anguish and severe emotional distress.

Cooper initially lost his claim but the ruling was reversed on appeal. Cooper is now entitled to damages for his emotional pain. Cooper was diagnosed with HIV in 1985. At that time, "the FAA routinely refused to issue medical certificates to individuals with HIV who were taking antiretroviral medications," according to Courthouse News Service. Since then, the FAA has changed its policy. As a result of his actions, Cooper did receive long-term Social Security disability benefits over the course of one year during which he held his pilot certificate, according to the Courthouse News Service.