ACLU of Illinois Obtains Favorable Settlement in HIV Racial Bias Case

April 21, 1999 12:00 am

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Wednesday, April 21, 1999

CHICAGO — The American Civil Liberties Union today announced a favorable settlement in the U.S. District Court ending the lawsuit Doe v. Glen Ellyn Clinic, which the ACLU filed last year.

This case concerned discrimination and invasion of privacy that Plaintiffs Jimmy Doe and Mary Doe — who are African-American — suffered when Jimmy, then nine years old, was coerced into submitting to an HIV test because he shared a white boy’s snorkel.

In July 1996, Jimmy Doe was enrolled in a summer day school at Outreach Community Center. During swimming activity, Jimmy shared the snorkel belonging to a white child he was playing with at the pool.

To accommodate the racial prejudice of the white child’s parent, and without any medical or public-health basis, Outreach coerced Ms. Doe into having Jimmy submit to an HIV test. Faced with the prospect of losing the daycare program she relied on, Jimmy’s mother reluctantly agreed to the test demanded by Outreach.

However, Ms. Doe consented to the test, against her better judgment, on the specific condition that the results, which turned out negative, be disclosed only to her. Nevertheless, the clinic revealed the test results to the white child’s mother without Ms. Doe’s consent.

In August 1998, the ACLU filed a suit on behalf of the Does, alleging racially-motivated discrimination in violation of federal laws, and improper disclosure of confidential medical information in violation of Illinois state law.

“Playing together at the pool with other kids should be a fun thing for kids to do, not a chance for discrimination,” said Mary Doe, the mother. “The reason we asked ACLU to file the lawsuit was to make sure that nobody else’s child has to go through what mine did.”

Under the settlement agreement, the defendants do not admit liability. However, they agreed to provide copies of their current nondiscrimination and confidentiality policies for review by the ACLU.

Further, the Does will receive an undisclosed monetary payment under the agreement. “We’re very happy with the settlement, which will let our family go on with our lives,” Ms. Doe said.

“We are confident that the Community Center and the Clinic in this case will not act on stereotypes and fears about HIV again, or ignore patient privacy rights,” said AIDS Project Director Roger Leishman, lead attorney on the case. “Most importantly, this has highlighted the ignorance and prejudice that continues to frustrate efforts to respond effectively to HIV.”

Leishman also expressed satisfaction with the resolution of the case. “Hopefully other organizations and health care providers will examine their own policies and practices, so that no one else has to suffer like the Does did.”

U.S. District Court Judge Ann Williams approved the settlement. The attorneys for the ACLU in addition to Leishman were staff counsel Imani Chiphe and volunteer cooperating attorney Doug Ferguson of Jenner and Block.

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