University Of Oregon Violated Sexual Assault Victim's Medical Privacy, Employees Claim

02/09/2015 04:14 pm ET | Updated Feb 09, 2015
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The University of Oregon illegally pried through the medical records of a female student who was expected to file a sexual assault-related lawsuit against the school, a staff therapist claims.

Jennifer Morlok, a senior staff therapist at UO's counseling center, alleges in a letter to university administrators and a Justice Department attorney that the school violated the privacy of a student who reported being gang-raped by three university basketball players in March 2014. The student, using the pseudonym Jane Doe, filed a lawsuit in January 2015 against the university and the head basketball coach for recruiting one of the alleged assailants, Brandon Austin, while he was being investigated for rape at another college.

According to Morlok's letter, obtained by The Huffington Post, university employees engaged in "potentially illegal and unethical behavior" by going through Doe's medical records without her consent.

"My concern was confirmed when it came to my awareness that the client's clinical records were accessed without the client's permission or consent and without proper authorization prior to any litigation occurring," she writes.

Doe's lawsuit similarly claimed that university administrators had improperly required counseling center employees to provide them with her privileged therapy records in December 2014.

Morlok's letter also alleges that school officials threatened to fire her and another employee, Karen Stokes, for questioning the way administrators treated a sexual assault victim. Stokes, executive assistant to the director of the counseling center, co-signed the letter.

"I was told to provide non-standard care for this student which went against my ethical and professional standards," Morlok wrote. "When I tried to seek appropriate and unbiased information as of how to best respond clinically for the student, I was scolded and my job was threatened. My job was threatened for two reasons: 1) As the clinician, I wrote a letter of summary for my client as per my client's request/needs/therapeutic support/ and standard care 2) I sought unbiased legal counsel outside the UO due to my ethical/legal concerns in this case."

A letter of summary is typically written by medical professionals in lieu of providing actual records, as a way to protect patient privacy.

Morlok declined to provide additional comment to HuffPost.

Tobin Klinger, a spokesman for the University of Oregon, said the university "did not and would not" violate a student's medical privacy or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a federal law that protects the confidentiality of medical records. "We look forward to discussing the matter with Ms. Morlok to better understand her concerns," Klinger said.

Morlok says that the problem occurred because specific individuals in "senior leadership capacities" and UO legal counsel "began to look out for the 'the system' and their loyalty to that system (or is the best guess that I can gather) and neglected the very client/student we were supposed to be supporting."

UPDATE, 5:20 p.m. -- The University of Oregon admitted on Monday in a response to Doe's lawsuit that it did access her medical records. However, the university said it did not violate privacy law when it transferred Doe's counseling records to the office of the university's counsel.

"There are multiple legal bases for Oregon to collect and review plaintiff's counseling records," the university stated in its court filing. The filing noted that Doe's counseling records are governed by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, "which allows Oregon to provide the records to its attorneys."

"The counseling records may have information tending to confirm or rebut her allegations and, under Oregon law, Oregon is entitled to review them," UO continued, adding that "although Oregon may lawfully review its records about plaintiff for the reasons stated above, Oregon has not done so."

Read the full letter below.

Letter of Concern - University of Oregon by Tyler Kingkade

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