Bragdon v. Abbott
In 1994, dentist Randon Bragdon of Maine refused to fill a cavity for patient Sidney Abbott because she had HIV. Although Bragdon later told Abbott that he would treat her in a hospital setting so that he could take "extra precautions," Bragdon never had admitting privileges at any hospital and never explained what these extra precautions might be. Abbott sued the dentist in federal court for violating the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. Abbott won her claim against Bragdon in the trial court and later in the First Circuit Court of Appeals. The dentist then petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to consider (among other things) whether patients such as Abbott, who show no visible HIV symptoms, are covered by the ADA. Lambda Legal joined with the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, D.C., to file a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the plaintiff, on behalf of 16 major medical and public health associations and individual experts. The Supreme Court ruled that Abbott was indeed protected by the ADA on the basis of HIV, establishing that HIV is a disability within the meaning of the ADA and confirming that all people with HIV are entitled to the protections of that law.
This was the first Supreme Court case involving a claim of HIV discrimination under the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Lambda Legal's Impact
We took a leading role in the friend-of-the-court strategy for the Supreme Court appeal, and the Justices' decision relied heavily on the analysis in our brief. The case set the important precedent that HIV is a disability under the ADA.
- December 1995 The trial court rules that Bragdon had violated the ADA in refusing to treat Abbott.
- March 1997 The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirms the lower court's ruling.
- June 1998 The U.S. Supreme Court issues a decision largely in agreement with Lambda Legal's position that Abbott's HIV status is covered under the ADA.
- December 1998 The First Circuit Court of Appeals rules that performing the dental procedure on Abbott did not pose a direct threat to others
Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, Daniel Bruner, Elizabeth A. Seaton and Laura M. Flegel of the Whitman-Walker Clinic Legal Services Department in Washington, D.C. (coauthors of the friend-of-the-court brief)