Courtesy of Vanita Gupta, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.
“On World AIDS Day 2014, the Department of Justice recognizes that eradicating stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS is a key civil rights issue. With today’s observance, we reaffirm our commitment to protect and advance the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS. Using every legal tool at our disposal, and working together with our partner agencies under the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, we remain dedicated to these goals not only on this important day, but every day of the year.”
-Attorney General Eric Holder
President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy recognizes eradicating stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS as a priority. On the occasion of World AIDS Day 2014, the Department of Justice reaffirms its commitment to carrying forth those goals through rigorous enforcement of civil rights laws and educating members of the public on their rights and responsibilities. Today we reflect on the work accomplished in the last year, and the work yet to be done.
The Justice Department’s HIV/AIDS enforcement efforts under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) over the past year have been active. For example, in 2013, the department secured a settlement agreement with the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) following its investigation of SCDC’s policies and practices of segregating inmates with HIV/AIDS and denying them the opportunity to participate equally in services, programs and activities. The department’s investigation found that the SCDC unnecessarily segregated all inmates with HIV in two of SCDC’s highest-security prisons, regardless of their individual security classification. SCDC further segregated inmates with HIV in “HIV-only” dorms in these two high-security prisons, and the inmates were required to wear clothing and badges that identified their dorms and effectively disclosed their HIV status to other inmates, correctional staff and visitors. Under the terms of the consent decree, SCDC implemented policies prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability, including HIV in particular. Since the execution of the agreement, inmates with HIV who were housed in the SCDC’s two highest-security prisons have been relocated to new housing options, based on the SCDC’s classification system and without regard to HIV. The SCDC inmates with HIV have also had the opportunity to participate in any programs for which they are otherwise qualified, such as drug treatment, work release, pre-release preparation, intermediate psychiatric care, youthful offender programs, re-entry and food service jobs in the cafeteria and canteen.
As in years past, the department’s work has also involved allegations that individuals were denied access to health care or were otherwise treated differently in clinical settings because they have HIV. For example, in February 2014, the department entered into a settlement agreement resolving its investigation of the refusal by a pharmacist in a well-known retail drugstore to administer a flu shot to an individual with HIV. The department resolved such allegations by requiring policy changes, training and payment of $15,000 in damages and civil penalties.
The department’s enforcement efforts also extended to the education setting. In May 2014, the department negotiated a settlement agreement with a private college based on allegations that it forced an individual to withdraw from a Medical Assistant Program on the basis of her HIV status. The agreement requires the college to adopt a nondiscrimination policy, cease asking applicants about their HIV status, train staff and pay $23,000 in damages.
Through its technical assistance work, the department continues its efforts to ensure that employers, businesses, state and local governments and people living with HIV/AIDS are aware of their rights and responsibilities under the law. In March 2014, the department co-authored a journal article with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examining state laws that criminalize potential HIV exposure and encouraging states with HIV-specific criminal laws to use the findings of the paper to re-examine those laws, assess the laws’ alignment with current evidence regarding HIV transmission risk and consider whether the laws are the best vehicle to achieve their intended purposes.
In July 2014, the department published a Best Practices Guide for states that wish to re-examine their HIV-specific criminal laws to ensure that existing policies do not place unique or additional burdens on individuals living with HIV/AIDS and that these policies reflect contemporary understandings of HIV transmission routes and current available treatments.
The department’s technical assistance work continues, for example, by providing materials on www.ada.gov/aids, by participating in training events and by answering the questions of individuals and covered entities through the ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (voice), 800-514-0383 (TTY).
On World AIDS Day 2014, the department honors the memory of those who have lost their battles to AIDS and pledges its support to those living with HIV and AIDS throughout our country today. To learn more about the department’s work, please visit www.ada.gov/aids.