ACLU Survey Reveals Massive Civil Rights Violations Against People With HIV/AIDS

November 13, 2003

19-Year-Old HIV-Positive Nebraska Woman Brings Lawsuit Against Former Employer for Discrimination

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NEW YORK - The American Civil Liberties Union today released a survey, HIV & Civil Rights: A Report from the Frontlines of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic, which details widespread civil rights violations throughout the U.S. against people with HIV/AIDS.  The survey was compiled from interviews over the past two years with community-based AIDS service providers from across the country.

The ACLU will also file a lawsuit today on behalf of an HIV-positive 19-year-old Nebraska woman against a local restaurant for illegal discrimination.  Priscilla Doe, who is suing under a pseudonym to protect her privacy, was fired from her job as a hostess at a restaurant in the small town where she lives when the owner learned that she was HIV-positive.  

""Unfortunately, Priscilla's story is all too common among people with HIV,"" said Leslie Cooper, a staff attorney with the ACLU's AIDS Project.  ""Stigma and ignorance continue to hound people with this disease, even though we now know you can't get HIV through casual contact.  Fortunately our laws make it clear that you can't discriminate against someone because they have HIV.""

Priscilla was hired as a hostess at a Nebraska restaurant in August 2002.  She got along well with the owners until May 9, 2003, when she was called just before she was to report to work and fired over the phone.  She later learned from other employees that the owners fired her because they found out that she was HIV-positive.  

""When I tested positive, my whole world turned upside down, and I had to reevaluate everything,"" said Priscilla.  ""I knew that living with HIV wasn't going to be easy, but I wasn't prepared for people to be so mean and ignorant.  I have dreams and ambitions just like everyone else.  I shouldn't have to worry that I'm going to get fired every time someone learns I'm positive."" 

The lawsuit against the local restaurant, which was filed in state court, charges that the owner violated a Nebraska law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of HIV infection in employment, housing, schools and public accommodations.  

According to the ACLU's survey, Priscilla's story illustrates just one of many of the ways in which people with HIV and AIDS continue to be discriminated against across the country.  Denial of medical treatment, violations of privacy, deprivation of parental rights, discrimination in the workplace, and refusal of admittance into nursing homes and residential facilities top the list of common hardships experienced by people with HIV/AIDS.  All of the 43 providers surveyed reported numerous violations.    

""It's shocking that more than 20 years into this epidemic so many people continue to be discriminated against and stigmatized because of their HIV status,"" said Cooper.  ""We knew that these kinds of violations were happening but we had no idea of the magnitude.  It shows how much education is still necessary not only to prevent the spread of the disease, but also to ensure basic humanity for those living with it."" 

Some of the more startling violations included:

  • In rural Texas, a patient with AIDS who was admitted to a local hospital for vomiting and diarrhea was found lying in a hospital bed with nothing but a cup of water on the table.  Staff from an AIDS service organization delivered medication to him and asked that he be given an IV.  When they returned the following day he still had not been treated.  He was transferred to another hospital, but it was too late and he died.   
  • A provider in New Mexico reported that a patient first learned that he was HIV-positive from a receptionist in front of a waiting room full of people.  
  • A landlord in Arkansas found out that his tenant was HIV-positive and tore up the lease.   
  • A teacher in Florida informed an entire classroom of one child's HIV status.  
  • A provider in Arizona tried for three months to get an HIV-positive client into a skilled nursing care facility, calling almost every home in Arizona.   
  • Even in Los Angeles, many nursing homes and psychiatric facilities will not take clients with HIV.  
  • In Texas, HIV-positive parents have been denied visitation of their children because of their status. 

""Many people are still completely clueless about HIV/AIDS and about their legal obligations for dealing with people with the disease,"" added Cooper.  ""By exposing these violations, we hope more people will think twice before firing someone or turning them out onto the street because of HIV."" 

The results of the survey will be distributed to HIV/AIDS community-based service providers throughout the country, in order to educate people with HIV/AIDS about their rights and encourage them to take advantage of their legal protections to end HIV-based discrimination.  Along with the report, the ACLU has released brochures and posters addressing common forms of discrimination and asking people to contact the ACLU AIDS project if they think their rights have been violated.  To receive free copies of these materials, e-mail HIV@aclu.org or download printable versions at www.aclu.org/hivaids.   

The ACLU is being assisted in the Nebraska case by Corey Stull, an attorney with Perry, Guthery, Haase & Gessford of Lincoln, NE.

The complaint can be read online at /cpredirect/11566.

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