Sonoma County social worker sued for snooping in applicant’s files

Sometimes employees snoop in healthcare or government databases just out of curiosity. Other times, they snoop to obtain information to misuse. That misuse could involve financial fraud such as tax refund fraud, or it could involve tormenting your neighbor, according to a lawsuit in Santa Rosa, California.

Paul Payne of the Press Democrat reported on a case where a man has sued his neighbor, a Sonoma County social worker, for misusing her access to the county Human Services Development database to taunt him and harass him:

Eugene Alexeev, a disabled car mechanic originally from the Soviet Union, claims Lizbeth De Mejia, a county Human Services Department eligibility worker, shouted details about his lack of employment and reliance on public assistance in a dispute over backyard watering.

When Alexeev reported the apparent breach to county officials, he was told it never happened and that he shouldn’t contact them anymore, he said.

The case has gone to court this week, and a jury will decide if Alexeev is entitled to damages for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Because Alexeev complained, the county investigated and although they initially found no unauthorized access to their database, a second county review conducted after an electronic tracking device was placed on his file that his neighbor had, indeed, accessed his records. Alexeev complains that the county never notified him of their findings that there had been a breach.

That said, it doesn’t sound like he has any clear evidence that she accessed his files before she began taunting him publicly. But is it a reasonable inference that she learned of his situation just by living next door to him? Would she really have known, as he claims, that he and his mother were receiving assistance from the county’s medical services program and that they had no money – just by living next door to him?

De Mejia, who maintains she didn’t look at the files until after Alexeev complained, was disciplined with a pay cut but remains a part-time employee. Her lawyer suggested she knew about Alexeev’s unemployment and finances from living beside him for so long.

So will the jury find Alexeev has provided enough evidence to prove improper access, and that her conduct constitutes invasion of privacy? We’ll have to wait for the jury’s verdict.

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