Are Confidential Therapist-Student Records Available as Evidence in New York Title IX Lawsuits?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Apr 08, 2020 | 0 Comments

In New York, there are strict limitations on the availability of therapist records in a Title IX action. The courts in that state typically point to the Mental Hygiene Law when ruling that any communication between an accuser and their therapist is confidential and not available to the other party. However, a New York magistrate now seeks to open up records of conversations between a student and their school-employed therapist.

The magistrate in a Title IX lawsuit has ruled that conversations between a Syracuse University Student and a therapist provided by the school should be available to the plaintiff. The issue arises from the dual roles the therapist fills for the school.

The employee is not strictly a mental health counselor, instead serving a combination of roles for the school's Sexual Relationship Violence Response Team, or SRVRT. While working for the SRVRT, this employer fills the role of confidential mental health counselor as well as an advisor on the procedural aspects of filing a Title IX claim. While the therapist-patient relationship is confidential, any discussions of a procedural nature with an advisor may not be.

The Risk of Disclosure

According to counsel for the plaintiff, Syracuse is to blame for the potential need to disclose these records. The attorney points to the school's combination of the therapeutic role of a counselor with the procedural duties of advisor as the reason the disclosure of these records is necessary. It is the plaintiff's contention that the process followed by the school that ultimately led to his expulsion from Syracuse. It is the plaintiff's contention that the therapist might have pushed the accuser to file a Title IX complaint with the school despite withdrawing the criminal complaint she had previously filed.

The plaintiff argued – and the magistrate agreed – that the interests of justice in the plaintiff's Title IX lawsuit outweigh the need for confidentiality in this case. Unsurprisingly, the school disagrees, citing the risk of a chilling effect on disclosures if these records become available.

New York's Mental Hygiene Law

The New York Mental Hygiene Law contains strong language aimed at protecting these sensitive records. According to the statute:

Information about patients or clients reported … at office facilities shall not be a public record and shall not be released by the offices or its facilities to any person or agency outside of the offices.

That said, there is an important exception within the statute that allows for these disclosures if the court finds the interest of justice outweighs the need for confidentiality.

The Potential for Setting Precedent

As this case is currently heard by a New York magistrate, the decision will not create any precedent directly. However, this result could lead to a dramatic change in how these records are dealt without throughout New York if other courts follow suit.

If you are facing campus discipline, you are entitled to a vigorous legal defense. Do not leave your academic future to chance. Contact national Title IX attorney Joseph D. Lento for help at 888-535-3686.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients nationwide. Attorney Lento and his team represent students and others in disciplinary cases and various other proceedings at colleges and universities across the United States. Attorney Lento has helped countless students, professors, and others in academia at more than a thousand colleges and universities across the United States, and when necessary, he and his team have sought justice on behalf of clients in courts across the nation. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide, and he can help you or your student address any school-related issue or concern anywhere in the United States.


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