Businesses Ask Wisconsin Supreme Court to Prevent Governor From Outing Companies With COVID-19-Positive Staff

Businesses Ask Wisconsin Supreme Court to Prevent Governor From Outing Companies With COVID-19-Positive Staff
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers speaks in Madison, Wis., on July 30, 2020. (Wisconsin Department of Health Services via the AP)
Matthew Vadum
The largest small-business advocacy group in the country is urging the Wisconsin Supreme Court to block Democratic Gov. Tony Evers from publishing the names of those businesses in the state whose employees have tested positive for the CCP virus, which causes the disease COVID-19.

Evers doesn’t have a good track record in these matters in the state Supreme Court. Emergency orders he said were aimed to stop the spread of COVID-19 haven’t fared well before that judicial body.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has repeatedly struck down pandemic mitigation orders that the governor’s administration has issued by virtue of its purported public health emergency powers. A stay-at-home order, as well as orders requiring the wearing of face masks, and imposing bar and restaurant capacity limits, have all been vacated.

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) said it filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce v. Evers, a lawsuit that Wisconsin business advocacy organizations initiated in October 2020.

Evers said in 2020 he would make public the names of businesses in America’s Dairyland that have more than 25 employees and at least two who had tested positive for COVID-19.

“We have a legal obligation to the public to release that information,” the governor said in October 2020, according to local media outlet WKOW.

Evers said multiple media outlets have filed requests for the information and that he’s required to release the names. The names wouldn’t be published online but would be given to the media organization that sought them by making Freedom of Information Act requests, he added.

The group known as Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business trade organization, sued the state government, arguing that patient-identifiable data extracted from confidential medical records of thousands of Wisconsin residents would end up being made public.

The group stated that releasing that information runs afoul of state laws that require that the information in medical records be maintained in confidence, and that making the information publicly available will harm the reputations of individual employees and the businesses for which they work. The group also said a state official had notified it that the government planned to make public the names of more than 1,000 affected Wisconsin businesses.

According to the original legal complaint filed in Waukesha County, “Wisconsin Statute Section 146.82 requires any person, including government actors, to keep confidential the information contained in medical records. Any record ‘related to the health of a patient prepared by or under the supervision of a health care provider’ is a “patient health care record,’ Wis. Stat. [Section] 146.81, and therefore must be kept confidential. Wis. Stat. [Section] 146.82.”

WMC President and CEO Kurt Bauer reportedly said at the time that “this type of release has the potential to spread false and misleading information that will damage the brands of Wisconsin employers” that were already suffering because of the pandemic.

Early in the litigation, Waukesha County Judge Lloyd V. Carter issued a temporary restraining order preventing the state from releasing the information, but in April, the state’s 4th District Court of Appeals disagreed and ruled in favor of Evers and his administration.

WMC filed an appeal with the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which is currently pending.

Joined by business groups such as Wisconsin Restaurant Association, the NFIB got onboard, filing a brief in the case urging the appeals court’s decision to be reversed.

“The governor’s plans will ultimately do more harm than good for small business owners in Wisconsin,” Karen Harned, executive director of NFIB’s Small Business Legal Center, said in a statement.

“Publishing the names of businesses with employees testing positive for COVID-19 will permanently impact small businesses’ financial recovery throughout the state and not slow the spread of the virus. We urge the Wisconsin Supreme Court to reverse the court of appeals decision and not allow this ill-advised plan to proceed.”

Bill G. Smith, NFIB’s Wisconsin state director, also weighed in.

“Small businesses in Wisconsin continue to struggle with challenges such as worker shortages and supply chain disruptions,” Smith said in the same statement.

“Unfortunately, the governor’s plans won’t help curb the spread of COVID, but rather inflate the current problems they’re already facing.”

Among other groups signing on to the brief are the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce, Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce, Wisconsin Dairy Alliance, Wisconsin Builders Association, Greater Wausau Chamber of Commerce, Waukesha County Business Alliance, and Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin.

The Epoch Times reached out to the governor’s press office in Madison for comment but didn’t received a response as of press time.