“Federal law is a critically important tool in eradicating the discrimination that so many people living with HIV and AIDS still face in their daily lives. By enforcing the civil rights laws and educating members of the public about their rights and responsibilities, the Department of Justice seeks to eradicate the stigma and stereotypes that so often lead to unlawful treatment of people with HIV/AIDS. Along with our partner agencies under the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, we remain committed to using every tool available to protect the rights of individuals with HIV/AIDS.” -Attorney General Eric Holder
In recognition of World AIDS Day 2013, the Department of Justice reaffirms its commitment to eradicating stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS across our country. President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy recognizes that important work as a priority. This year’s observance offers us the chance to both reflect on the work we have done in the past year to protect the rights of people with HIV/AIDS and – due to the sad truth of continuing discrimination – the significant work to be done in the year ahead.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division HIV/AIDS enforcement work under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) over the past year has been robust. Much of that work has involved allegations that individuals were denied care or were otherwise treated differently in health care, dentistry, or other clinical settings because they have HIV, and the department resolved those allegations through policy changes that ensure that all future individuals with HIV/AIDS would not face the same discrimination in those settings. These included settlements with a pain management clinic in North Carolina that refused to treat a patient due to her HIV status, a clinic in Missouri that refused to treat a woman with HIV for her serious eating disorder, a dentistry practice in Virginia that told a new patient with HIV that all of his appointments must be scheduled as the last appointment of the day, an alcohol treatment program in Ohio that excluded an individual from their program because of the side effects of his HIV medication, and a provider of bariatric surgeries based on the experiences of individuals in Pennsylvania and Michigan whose anticipated surgeries were cancelled or denied because of their HIV status.
In September 2013, the department filed a complaint and settlement in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina regarding the South Carolina Department of Corrections’ (SCDOC) policies and practices of segregating inmates with HIV in several of its prisons and denying those individuals the opportunity for equal participation in services, programs, and activities. The segregation at the heart of the lawsuit includes placement of individuals with HIV in two of the system’s highest security prisons – regardless of their individual security classifications – where they were housed in “HIV-only” dorms and required to wear clothing and badges that identified their dorms (effectively disclosing their HIV status to other inmates, staff, and visitors). Because certain programs are not provided at the two high security prisons, inmates with HIV were unable to participate in a variety of the SCDOC’s programs, such as drug treatment, work release, pre-release preparation, intermediate psychiatric care, and certain jobs that are made available to lower-level security inmates who do not have HIV.
The settlement resolving the department’s investigation of the SCDOC requires the SCDOC to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability (including, in particular, on the basis of HIV status). Additionally, lower-level security inmates with HIV who are currently housed in the SCDOC’s two high security prisons will have an opportunity to choose new housing options based on the general classification system without regard to their HIV status. Under this settlement, inmates with HIV will also be able to participate in DOC programs, 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. Finally, inmates with HIV who in the past have experienced segregation will be given priority access to those programs that they were illegally denied. With this settlement, the SCDOC joins the other 49 state correctional systems in recognizing that individuals with HIV are entitled to equal treatment under the law.
Through its technical assistance work, the department also 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 – including through the availability of publications such as “Questions and Answers: The Americans with Disabilities Act and Persons with HIV/AIDS,” through training events and through the ADA Information Line, 800-514-0301 (voice), 800-514-0383 (TTY).
Today, in recognition of World AIDS Day 2013, the department pledges its continued commitment to the important goal of allowing individuals with HIV/AIDS to reach their full potential – free of the burdens of stigma and discrimination. To learn more about the department’s work, please visit www.ada.gov/aids.
Jocelyn Samuels is Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the Department of Justice.