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Justice Department Settles Three HIV Discrimination Cases

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Department of JusticeAs part of its Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has reached three settlements addressing HIV discrimination by medical providers over the past three weeks. Each of the settlements was reached under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities—including persons with HIV disease—in public accommodations, employment, transportation, State and local government services, and telecommunications.

In the settlement announced this week, DOJ found that Woodlawn Family Dentistry of Alexandria, Virginia required a patient with HIV to schedule all future appointments as the last appointment of the day. DOJ determined that, because the patient has HIV, Woodlawn failed to offer him the same options and availability in scheduling future appointments as it offered to other people. DOJ further determined that there was no lawful reason why Woodlawn could not treat the patient at any time during normal business hours. Under the settlement, Woodlawn must pay $7,000 to the patient and $3,000 in civil penalties. In addition, Woodlawn must train its staff on the ADA and develop and implement an anti-discrimination policy.

Earlier this month, the Justice Department announced that it had reached a settlement with Castlewood Treatment Center LLC, of St. Louis, Missouri, which resolves allegations that Castlewood violated the ADA by refusing to treat a woman for a serious eating disorder because she has HIV. DOJ found that Castlewood refused to treat Susan Gibson because of her HIV, despite Castlewood’s determination that she was qualified to receive counseling treatment for her eating disorder, and despite advice from its own medical staff that they were able to treat someone with HIV at Castlewood. DOJ also determined that for months Castlewood staff told Gibson that she was on a waiting list for the program, even though they had no intention to admit her. In the meantime, Gibson’s condition worsened and her health declined. Castlewood’s actions delayed Gibson from receiving appropriate medical treatment for up to seven months. Gibson’s complaint was brought to the Justice Department’s attention by the American Civil Liberties Union, LGBT & AIDS Project Exit Disclaimer.

“Excluding a person from necessary medical treatment solely because of HIV is unconscionable,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Civil Rights Division takes HIV discrimination in any form seriously, and will not allow for the marginalization of those living with HIV.”

Under the February 8, 2013 settlement, the Castlewood Treatment Center must pay $115,000 to Gibson and $25,000 in civil penalties. In addition, Castlewood must train its staff on the ADA and develop and implement an anti-discrimination policy. The Justice Department will monitor Castlewood’s compliance for four years.

Finally, on January 31, 2013, the Justice Department announced a similar settlement agreement with the Fayetteville Pain Center to address HIV discrimination. That settlement resolves allegations that the Fayetteville Pain Center violated the ADA by refusing to treat a woman because she has HIV. The complainant, a woman with HIV who was suffering from back pain as a result of a car accident, visited the Fayetteville Pain Center in Fayetteville, North Carolina, seeking treatment. According to the complaint, the woman was unable to obtain medical treatment because the doctor at the Fayetteville Pain Center refused to treat a person with HIV. The ADA requires public accommodations such as doctors’ offices, medical clinics, hospitals, and other health care providers, to provide people with disabilities, including those with HIV, equal access to goods, services, and facilities. Under the settlement, the Fayetteville Pain Center must pay $10,000 to the complainant and $5,000 to the United States in civil penalties, train its staff on the ADA, and develop and implement an anti-discrimination policy.

All three settlements are part of the Department of Justice’s Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative, a partnership of the Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney’s offices across the nation, to target enforcement efforts on a critical area for individuals with disabilities. The initiative, launched on the 22nd anniversary of the ADA in July 2012, includes the participation of 40 U.S. Attorney’s offices. The Division expects the initiative to address access to health care for people with HIV and those with hearing disabilities, as well as physical access to medical facilities. In 2012, the Division and U.S. Attorneys offices reached two settlement agreements regarding access to medical care for people with HIV and four settlements regarding access to medical care for people with hearing disabilities.

Since President Obama announced the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) in July 2010, the Department of Justice, under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, has taken unprecedented steps to enforce civil rights laws that protect the rights of persons living with HIV or AIDS and to educate the public on these issues. The NHAS Federal Implementation Plan calls upon the Department of Justice to enhance cooperation with other Federal agencies to facilitate enforcement of Federal antidiscrimination laws. Information about the important role that enforcement of antidiscrimination laws can play in changing the HIV/AIDS epidemic can be found in an excerpt from the NHAS (PDF 90KB).

For more information on the ADA and HIV visit www.ada.gov/aids. Those interested in finding out more about these settlements or the obligations of public accommodations under the ADA may call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA information line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD), or access its ADA website at www.ada.gov. ADA complaints may be filed by email to ada.complaint@usdoj.gov.

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