Courtesy of Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division
“The Department of Justice is firmly committed to eradicating discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS. Such discrimination compromises our defining values, violates our founding ideals, and has a profound and deeply unfair impact on individuals who need and deserve our support. That is why the Department of Justice is using every tool at our disposal and working collaboratively with partners across the federal government to make the ADA’s promise of equal access and equal treatment a reality for all Americans.”
— Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch
For the roughly one million Americans living with HIV/AIDS, painful stigma and discrimination continue to permeate their daily lives. As citizens and countries around the world come together in observance of World AIDS Day, it signifies a critical opportunity for each of us – public officials and private citizens alike – to celebrate the advances that allow people with HIV to live long and productive lives, to solidify our support for those living with HIV and to renew our fight against the spread of unfounded stereotypes and misinformation about this disease.
In the 25 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Justice Department has vigorously enforced this landmark legislation to protect and advance the right of people with HIV to live free from discrimination.
Earlier this year, the department reached meaningful settlements with a healthcare system in Ohio, as well as a dental care company and a hospital in Pennsylvania, resolving allegations that they had denied care to patients because they have HIV. In each case, our agreements led to enhanced training, new policies and clear protocols that create sustainable safeguards against discrimination. In May, we sued a New York plastic surgery center to remedy the discriminatory denial of service to a patient because of HIV, and the case is currently pending in federal court.
Our enforcement efforts have also extended into educational settings. When a vocational education and career training provider in Louisiana withdrew a conditional acceptance offer after learning that a nursing program applicant had HIV, we reached a court-monitored agreement that requires the college to adopt a nondiscrimination policy, cease asking applicants about their HIV status, train staff on ADA requirements and pay $35,000 in damages.
Beyond our enforcement work, we continue to provide technical assistance to businesses, public employers and people living with HIV/AIDS on their rights and responsibilities under the ADA. In September, the department published a plain language pamphlet explaining the legal requirements imposed by the ADA on public and private entities that employ or serve people with HIV/AIDS. We also regularly host training events, conduct outreach with AIDS Service Organizations and respond to questions from individuals and covered entities through our ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (voice) or 800-514-0383 (TTY).
Additionally, following the administration’s release of an updated national HIV/AIDS strategy in July, today the White House published a new federal implementation plan that highlights the role of the Justice Department in coordinating inter-agency efforts to eradicate stigma and combat discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS through enforcement, technical assistance and outreach.
Despite the strides of our progress, however, we must remain ever vigilant of the pressing and urgent work that remains. Today, as we remember those who have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS across the globe, let us renew our efforts to honor their legacies by replacing ignorance with awareness and by replacing discrimination with tolerance. Let us not rest until the dignity and value of every person is recognized without question; and until – to quote President Bush’s powerful words at the ADA signing ceremony – every last “shameful wall of exclusion finally come[s] tumbling down.” We must rise to this challenge and answer this call to service as one people, driven to make the promising ideals of justice a tangible reality for all Americans.
To learn more about the department’s work, or to file a complaint of HIV or AIDS-related discrimination, please visit www.ada.gov/aids.