Dentist Confirms Commitment to Equal Treatment of Individuals with HIV and Public Education Efforts, Settling Lambda Legal Case on Behalf of Man With HIV Who Said He Was Denied Dental Care
(New York, May 13, 2003) – Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund today announced a settlement in its lawsuit accusing a New Jersey dentist of refusing to treat an HIV-positive man, in violation of state disability discrimination law. The dentist denied any wrongdoing, claiming that he did offer to treat the HIV-positive man. The lawsuit was filed in July in state court in Middlesex County, and Lambda Legal joined the suit in October.
Lambda Legal, plaintiff Richard Doust, and the dentist all said that they are pleased with the settlement. The dentist will publicly urge dentists nationwide to fulfill their legal and ethical obligations and treat patients with HIV or AIDS. Specifically, the dentist will send letters to dozens of dental schools and associations across the country encouraging dental schools and training programs to devote resources to education regarding HIV and help eliminate discrimination against people with HIV and AIDS. In these letters, the dentist points out that “[b]y redoubling our education efforts, our community can help to fulfill the promise that all persons, including those with HIV and AIDS, are provided full access to quality dental care.”
In the lawsuit, Richard Doust, a 46-year-old Monmoth County resident, said he was referred to the dentist for treatment for a dental emergency. Doust's lawsuit said that once the dentist learned that Doust was HIV positive, he took Doust into his office and explained that his staff did not feel comfortable assisting Doust. Doust further claimed that the dentist tried to refer him elsewhere for treatment. The dentist denied the allegations, claiming that he did not refuse treatment. The dentist further stated that he is committed to doing what he can to insure that all individuals with HIV and AIDS, and not just his own patients, receive full and equal dental treatment. In pursuit these efforts, the dentist will take the above referenced actions.
Scientific studies have consistently concluded that there is no significant risk of transmission of HIV from patient to dentist during dental treatment when universal precautions are routinely followed, and courts have consistently held that discrimination against people with HIV is unlawful under the Americans with Disabilities Act and state laws. But Lambda Legal’s Help Desk regularly receives calls from people with HIV or AIDS who were denied dental or medical services or turned away from hotels and other public accommodations, according to Jonathan Givner, the Lambda Legal attorney handling Doust's case.
“These are everyday situations where most people encounter no problems, but people with HIV or AIDS are turned away at the door,” Givner said. “They can usually find another hotel or another doctor, but in the process they’ve gone through the humiliation of being treated like second-class citizens -- which is exactly what federal and state laws are designed to prevent.”
Denial of dental services is particularly common, Givner said, and today’s settlement will help protect other people with HIV and AIDS from discrimination. “By educating dentists from within the profession, this settlement will significantly improve access to dental care for people with HIV and AIDS," Givner said. “For our client and for many other people with HIV and AIDS, we’re extremely pleased with this settlement. It will make a substantial difference in people’s lives.”
Doust also announced that he plans to make a donation to Lambda Legal to help the organization advance its work on behalf of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, the transgendered and people living with HIV or AIDS.
Kathleen Dunnigan of Dwyer & Dunnigan, LLC, in Newark is a cooperating attorney working with Lambda Legal on the case.