The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has a leadership role in fighting discrimination against people who are living with HIV or AIDS. It addresses this responsibility through outreach and enforcement of Federal laws. For example, DOJ enforces the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that protects individuals living with HIV or AIDS from discrimination. The ADA requires public accommodations, like doctors' offices, medical clinics, hospitals and other health care providers to provide individuals with disabilities, including people living with HIV, equal access to goods, services, facilities, accommodations, advantages, and accommodations. DOJ's work supports implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which identified reducing stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV as a key tactic in national efforts to reduce HIV-related health disparities.
Recent Enforcement Actions
On May 11, 2012, DOJ announced that it has reached two settlements resolving claims that health care providers refused to serve people with HIV in violation of the ADA. The first was based on a complaint filed by a man with HIV who went to the Mercy Medical Group Midtown Clinic in Sacramento, Calif. After meeting with the patient and examining him, a podiatrist at the clinic informed the patient of his treatment options. Although surgery was one of the options, the podiatrist incorrectly told the patient that he could not perform the surgery because of a risk that he would contract HIV from the patient during surgery. The United States determined that the podiatrist's actions violated the ADA by denying the patient the full and equal enjoyment of the services offered at the clinic on the basis of his disability.
The second complaint was filed by a man with HIV who went to the Knoxville Chiropractic Clinic North in Knoxville, Tenn., for chiropractic treatment following an automobile accident. After examining him, the doctor determined that the patient required 24 subsequent appointments to treat his injuries. On his third visit to the clinic, however, the receptionist informed him that the doctor would not see him because they could not treat people “like him.” The United States determined that Knoxville Chiropractic Centers had a blanket policy of refusing treatment to persons with HIV in violation of the ADA.
“It is critical that people with disabilities, including HIV, not be denied equal access to goods and services, especially to health care services. The [DOJ's] Civil Rights Division takes discrimination based on unfounded fears and stereotypes about HIV very seriously,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.
The settlement agreements require the entities to develop and implement a non-discrimination policy and to train staff on the requirements of the ADA. In addition, the settlements called for penalties.
You can read the full press release about the settlements at the DOJ's web site.
Outreach and Training
DOJ also continues to build on collaborations described previously in our post on the civil right to live free from discrimination on the basis of HIV/AIDS status. DOJ's Civil Rights Division has performed additional training of AIDS service organization and advocacy groups in South Bend and Fort Wayne, Ind.; Cleveland and Cincinnati, Ohio; New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La.; Mobile, Ala.; St. Louis, Mo.; Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla.; and Salt Lake City, Utah.
To learn more about the work, visit DOJ's Fighting Discrimination Against People with HIV/AIDS section of the ADA.gov web site.
David W. Knight, J.D., is trial attorney in the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice.