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The Yakima School District has filed a lawsuit in Yakima County Superior Court seeking permission to withhold confidential employee medical information in a public records request — some of which had already been released.

The case, which involves drug screening paperwork for district employees and job applicants, raises questions about the state’s public records and privacy rules.

In November 2018, Andrew Magee filed a public records request with the Yakima School District asking for all records related to drug testing imposed on district applicants, according to court documents. Magee is an attorney representing a job applicant suing the district in a separate civil case involving the district’s drug testing procedures.

The district released some of the drug testing records to avoid violating state public records rules, it said, and is seeking a court ruling to avoid having to release the rest.

A hearing in the case is scheduled this week.

The case

Magee told the district that his request included an employee drug screen acknowledgment form and records of “results of drug screenings performed as part of … YSD’s employment application process,” according to court records. He also said he was filing the request as an individual, not as an attorney, records show.

The district responded by providing some of the drug screening records. In June, the school district went to court to avoid giving him the rest, which it says was necessary in the face of threats of litigation by Magee over public records violations, according to its response in court.

“The records described by Mr. Magee are maintained by YSD in file cabinets referred to as ‘HIPAA files,’” said an August declaration by assistant superintendent of business services Scott Izutsu. HIPAA refers to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a law that protects medical privacy. “These files, which are distinct and separate from employee personnel files, contain confidential information of YSD employees and applicants for employment, including medical records.”

The declaration by Izutsu says the district had files for roughly 2,000 district employees in addition to several job applicants. On Feb. 15, it says Magee was notified that the first of 33 installments of such documents were available for his review. In early March, it says, Magee reviewed the records, which an invoice for record copies reflects.

Court records show that an additional installment of pre-employment drug records was inspected and copied by Magee in April.

The complaint filed by the district in June requests that the court allow the drug screening records to be withheld in their entirety.

In July, the district released a third installment of the files.

The state’s Public Records Act has an exemption for “personal information in files maintained for employees, appointees, or elected officials of any public agency to the extent that disclosure would violate their right to privacy.”

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Legal response

In a legal response submitted to the court in September, Magee argues that the district’s case against him is “frivolous and has been brought only to cause needless litigation and to interfere with” his representation in the separate U.S. District Court case against the district.

Magee, who represents himself in the Superior Court case, argues that the district admits to releasing personal information that he and the public are not authorized to receive, violating employee and applicants’ privacy rights, according to his court response. He argues that the district waived its opportunity to deny his public records request within five days of his request under the Public Records Act, and that the district has a duty to inform the people whose information had already been released of the violation.

In the separate federal lawsuit, Magee represents a job applicant who declined to take a pre-employment drug screening test. The lawsuit alleges the requirement violates the state constitution. The district said the employment offer was rescinded for another reason.

In the suit over the public records, Magee requests that the court seize the relevant documents from the district, award Magee payment by the district for attorney’s fees and appoint him authority to contact the people whose information was released by the district and require the district to compensate him for doing so.

The district denies that it waived its right to withhold further documents. It said in its court reply Oct. 11 that based on legal precedent, the district released the documents to avoid per diem costs of public records release delays while seeking a judgment that might allow the release to stop. It asks that Magee’s financial awards be denied and allow the district to withhold further drug screening record installments from Magee.

A hearing in the case is scheduled at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday in Yakima County Superior Court.

Reach Janelle Retka at jretka@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @janelleretka

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