Denver Health v. HouchinAnnotate this Case
In 2012, the Denver Health and Hospital Authority hired Brent Houchin as an Employee Relations Specialist and promoted him to Employee Relations Manager. Throughout Houchin’s time at Denver Health, his supervisor consistently rated his performance as “successful” and “exceptional.” In an employee relations matter concerning the suspected diversion of controlled substances, a former in-house lawyer for Denver Health advised that using an employee’s medical records from off-duty medical care in connection with an internal investigation would violate the privacy requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”). Houchin objected to this interpretation of HIPAA because he (1) felt that it prevented him from investigating suspected employee diversions of controlled substances and (2) believed that HIPAA permitted the use of such employee information to detect health care fraud and abuse. This disagreement in interpretation would come into play when Houchin's employment was terminated, based on two alleged HIPAA violations relating to an investigation. Following his termination, Houchin appeared to have commenced Denver Health’s “Concern Resolution” process to address what he believed to be the discriminatory circumstances of his termination. Houchin then filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, alleging discrimination based on his sexual orientation and retaliation for using Denver Health’s “Concern Resolution” process to address such discrimination. The Civil Rights Division ultimately issued a Notice of Right to Sue, and Houchin filed a complaint against Denver Health. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on the interplay between the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act ("CADA") and the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (CGIA"). Denver Health moved to dismiss Houchin’s complaint, arguing, among other things, that Houchin’s discrimination and retaliation claims under CADA lie in tort and were therefore barred by the CGIA. The Supreme Court concluded: (1) claims for compensatory relief under CADA were not claims for “injuries which lie in tort or could lie in tort” for purposes of the CGIA and therefore public entities were not immune from CADA claims under the CGIA; (2) “the state,” as used in subsection 24-34-405(8)(g), included political subdivisions of the state. The appellate court's judgment dismissing Houchin's claims was reversed, and the matter remanded for further proceedings.