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Health and Human Services Discrimination: Persons with HIV Infection or AIDS

Federal laws that prohibit discrimination by health care and human service providers include Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Section 504"), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"). Section 504 and the ADA protect individuals with Human Immunodeficiency Virus ("HIV") or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome ("AIDS") from discrimination on the basis of their disability. The information below applies to persons who have tested positive for HIV, persons who have AIDS, and persons regarded as having HIV or AIDS.

Protections Against Discrimination

Both Section 504 and the ADA prohibit discrimination against qualified persons with HIV and other disabilities. Section 504 prohibits discrimination by health care and human service providers (called "entities") that receive federal funds or some other types of federal assistance. Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination by state and local government entities even if they do not receive federal financial assistance. Examples of entities that may be covered by Section 504 and the ADA include

  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Social services agencies
  • Drug treatment centers, and
  • Nursing homes.

Discrimination may occur if the entity excludes a person with HIV from participating in a service, or denies them a benefit. The person living with HIV must meet the essential eligibility requirements for the benefit or service he or she is seeking. The entity may be required to make a reasonable accommodation to enable the person with HIV to participate. The ADA also protects other persons, such as family and friends, who are discriminated against because of their association with someone who has HIV.

Types of Discrimination Against Persons With HIV/AIDS

Persons with HIV infection have been denied access to social services, or denied medical treatment, or had treatment or services delayed, solely because they have HIV or AIDS. Such actions by an agency, organization, hospital, nursing home, drug treatment center, clinic, medical or dental office, or other entity, may be unlawful discrimination under either Section 504 or the ADA, or both.

Examples of practices which may be illegal discrimination are:

  • A nursing home that has space available denies admission to a person with HIV, because their staff is not trained to care for HIV-related conditions, even though the home could easily provide the necessary training.
  • A social services agency removes a foster child from his foster home because the agency learns that one of the foster parents is a person with HIV.

If You are a Victim of Discrimination

If you believe that you have been discriminated against because of your HIV infection, you or your representative may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights. The deadline for filing a complaint is 180 days from the date the discrimination occurred, unless there is good reason for delay.

Under Section 504 and ADA, you may also file a private lawsuit. A private attorney or your local legal aid office can tell you what the court deadlines are for filing a lawsuit.

Next Steps
Contact a qualified civil rights attorney
to help you protect your rights.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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