WMC: Files injunction to stop release of businesses connected to COVID-19 cases

WAUKESHA – Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) – the combined state chamber, manufacturers’ association and safety council – filed a lawsuit on Thursday asking for an injunction to stop Gov. Tony Evers’ release of business names that have had employees test positive for COVID-19.

WMC was made aware that information on more than 1,000 businesses would be released on Friday, Oct. 2 by the Evers Administration if they had at least two employees who tested positive for COVID-19 – regardless of where the employees contracted the virus. Additionally, WMC has learned that business information could be released even if they had no employees test positive but had two or more contact tracing investigations.

“This type of release has the potential to spread false and misleading information that will damage the brands of Wisconsin employers,” said WMC President & CEO Kurt Bauer. “Not only could this cause significant financial and reputational harm to businesses, it would reduce the effectiveness of contact tracing, reduce the confidence level workers have in their employers and actually increase the likelihood of spreading the virus.”

The lawsuit asks the court to block Gov. Evers and his Administration from releasing this information. In part, the filing argues:

  • The records that defendants plan to disclose are protected by patient-confidentiality laws
  • Even if the information that defendants plan to release were not explicitly protected by the health-privacy statutes, the open-records statute would not authorize disclosure
  • Disclosure would cause plaintiffs’ members irreparable harm
  • An injunction is necessary to preserve the status quo and is in the public interest

“Gov. Evers said last month that this is not public information and that keeping it private actually helps public officials better manage outbreaks of COVID-19,” added Bauer. “If the goal is to flatten the curve and reduce the number of COVID-19 cases, why would the governor release such information? WMC and our members call on Gov. Evers to listen to his own guidance and follow the law.”

Since July, WMC has urged Gov. Evers, the Department of Health Services (DHS) and other Administration officials to keep this information private. This includes a letter to Gov. Evers on July 1 and a letter from WMC’s attorney on July 15 to the governor and DHS Secretary Andrea Palm.

The lawsuit was filed by Eimer Stahl Attorney Ryan Walsh on behalf of WMC, the Muskego Area Chamber of Commerce and the New Berlin Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Bureau on Thursday in the Waukesha County Circuit Court.
To read the brief in support, please click here.