Empower Wisconsin | Oct. 9, 2020
MADISON — In a huge win for privacy laws and Wisconsin’s COVID-19-battered businesses, a Waukesha County judge has extended his temporary restraining order against the Evers administration, barring it from releasing the names of businesses with two or more COVID-19 positive employees.
Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Lloyd V. Carter on Thursday ordered the restraining order to remain in place until at least Nov. 30, agreeing with attorneys for the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) and two local chambers of commerce that both sides need time to put together briefs on their arguments.
“We’re pleased that the court considers the health care records of thousands of employees in Wisconsin important enough to protect from public disclosure,” Ryan Walsh, partner at Madison-based law firm Eimer Stahl, told Empower Wisconsin. “We look forward to the briefing and whether we’re entitled to permanent relief. We are confident that we are.”
Carter’s new order came a week to the day after the judge issued an emergency restraining order against the state. He said WMC, the state’s largest business advocate, and the Muskego and New Berlin chambers of commerce have shown good cause in their petition for relief, filed earlier in the day.
The lawsuit seeks what Evers has failed to provide in all of his flip-flopping on the issue: a definitive declaration that making the names of the businesses public would break the law.
Of course, the governor has been repeatedly warned of that fact over the past couple of months. Yet, the Democrat will cost taxpayers more legal fees over his failure to follow the law and his vindictiveness for Republicans and business.
WMC learned last week that the information would be released on Friday, Oct.2. The Evers administration would name names – regardless of where the employees contracted the virus. Additionally, the information could be released even if the company 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 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which sought the information through an open records request, intervened in the case. The newspaper is demanding the records it has sought. Evers previously said the state would be violating privacy laws if it releases the information. The governor, who wouldn’t release a single day of his emails to a reporter or turn over records to conservative groups, now insists that he must follow the open records laws for his friends at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
But WMC says businesses and their employees have a right to protection from disclosure of sensitive information, too.
“It’s a great win and we look forward to continuing the fight and making sure private information is protected,” said Scott Manley, WMC’s executive vice president of Government Affairs.