HIV-Positive Student, Originally Denied Admittance, Permitted To Enroll In Puerto Rico Cosmetology School

Affiliate: ACLU of Puerto Rico
December 21, 2010 12:01 pm

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Justice Department Obtains Settlement For ACLU Client Illegally Denied Enrollment Due To HIV Status

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – The American Civil Liberties Union announced today that its client, an HIV-positive woman who was denied enrollment at a Puerto Rico cosmetology school, is now able to enroll as a result of a settlement with the school obtained by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

In the settlement, the Modern Hairstyling Institute agreed to enroll the woman, stop asking prospective students about their HIV status, provide training for its employees in compliance with federal law prohibiting discrimination based on disability and pay a fine to the federal government and damages to the woman.

"We are glad that reason has prevailed, and that our client will be able to pursue her chosen profession," said Leslie Cooper, senior attorney with the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender and AIDS Project. "It is unfortunate that in 2010 people living with HIV continue to face unwarranted and unjust discrimination based on misconceptions of what it means to be HIV-positive. We are delighted that the United States government took this case so seriously and hope this settlement will help prevent other people with HIV from going through what our client experienced."

The woman, who has sought anonymity, is an unemployed mother of two who was accepted by the Modern Hairstyling Institute in July. After meeting with the admissions officer, she was asked to fill out a health form asking her to indicate if she had any "contagious conditions," including AIDS. When she answered that she was HIV-positive, the school told her she would put others at risk of contracting HIV and denied her enrollment.

When the ACLU of Puerto Rico sent the school a letter explaining that this was illegal and demanding that its client be permitted to enroll, the school sued her in federal court seeking a declaration from the court that the school need not enroll her because of her HIV-positive status. The ACLU filed a complaint with the DOJ, which investigated and concluded that the school had engaged in unlawful discrimination. The federal government recognizes that individuals who are HIV-positive can safely practice in the field of cosmetology and do not pose a risk of transmission to their clients.

"Our client's condition in no way hinders her from performing the tasks required by the institute, and she poses no risk to anyone because of her HIV status," said William Ramirez of the ACLU of Puerto Rico. "In trying to obtain skills to provide for her family, our client was humiliated and unlawfully discriminated against. With this settlement, no one else who seeks instruction at this school will have to go through the same ordeal."

Lawyers representing the student are Cooper of the ACLU LGBT and AIDS Project, Ramirez and Josué González-Ortiz of ACLU of Puerto Rico, and Robert Lewis and Clinton Rickards of Baker McKenzie.

The settlement can be viewed at:

A DOJ fact sheet on the rights of people with HIV/AIDS to obtain occupational training and state licensing, including in the field of cosmetology, can be viewed at:

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