Discrimination against people with HIV is illegal under federal, state and local laws. Sadly, despite 40 years of scientific-research progress, we still need these tools to fight for the rights of people with HIV to be treated fairly.
At the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, we are acutely aware of the need for weapons to fight back against discrimination. We have been fighting this fight for more than 28 years. Since June, we have actively pursued discrimination claims on behalf of several people living with HIV.
We filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a Navy veteran who was denied access to a therapeutic pool, simply because she has HIV. In denying her access, the therapy center also disclosed her status to a group of other patients who were present in the facility. This case is pending and trial is set for the fall of 2017.
An HIV-positive chef and his HIV-negative partner contacted us for help, when they were both fired from a country club restaurant, once the positive worker’s HIV status became known. We wrote a strong letter explaining the rights of people with HIV to work in food services. Our letter led the former employer to settle with the chef and his partner.
A medical assistant was fired within days of disclosing his HIV status to his supervisor in an assisted-living facility for seniors. We sent another strong letter, resulting in a hostile conversation with the assisted-living facility owner. In response, we filed an administrative complaint on the medical assistant’s behalf with the federal EEOC.
An exotic dancer was fired from a strip club when a coworker disclosed her HIV status. We sent a strong letter to the former employer advising of the client’s right to work. We also sent a letter to her coworker advising of potential legal ramifications of spreading gossip. The dancer has since found other work.
Challenging HIV stigma and discrimination is hard work. Clients come forward because they can’t accept that they were treated unfairly and they want to make it a little better for the next person.
On this World AIDS Day, we extend our gratitude to those who have fought to make a difference.
Adrian M. Lowe is a staff attorney at AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania specializing in public benefits and HIV-related civil-rights law.