Federal Court Allows Lambda Legal and ARCW to Proceed to Trial on Behalf of HIV Positive Woman Denied Surgery

Date

Date: 
07/23/2010

(Milwaukee, WI, July 23, 2010) - Late yesterday, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin ruled that discrimination claims filed by Lambda Legal and the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (ARCW) on behalf of Melody Rose will proceed to trial.

Ms. Rose is a 36-year-old Wisconsin woman who was denied surgery because of unfounded fears regarding the transmission of HIV. The court denied, in large part, motions for summary judgment filed by defendants Steven M. Cahee, M.D., the Fond du Lac Regional Clinic, S.C., and Agnesian HealthCare, Inc.

U.S. District Court Judge J.P. Stadtmueller wrote: "A reasonable jury could look at all of this evidence and conclude that Dr. Cahee discriminated against Rose in the provision of services by declining to perform surgery on her and that this decision was based on Rose's disability."

"The Court's ruling is a significant victory along the road to justice for our client," said Scott Schoettes, Staff Attorney with Lambda Legal's HIV Project. "We are headed to trial to prove that the defendants' refusal to provide this surgery was motivated by baseless fears about HIV."

Melody Rose was suffering from gallbladder disease when her physician referred her to Dr. Steven Cahee at the Fond du Lac Regional Clinic to have her gallbladder removed. Dr. Cahee, however, refused to perform the surgery after learning about Ms. Rose's HIV status. Thereafter, a surgeon at a different medical facility removed Ms. Rose's gallbladder in what is considered a routine procedure.

In February 2009, Lambda Legal and ARCW filed suit on behalf of Ms. Rose against all three defendants under four different antidiscrimination statutes. In yesterday's ruling, the court allowed Rose's claim under the Rehabilitation Act to move forward against Agnesian Healthcare, her claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act to move forward against Dr. Cahee and the Fond du Lac Regional Clinic, and her two claims under Wisconsin law to proceed against all three defendants.

"Doctors are supposed to 'First, do no harm', but Dr. Cahee's conduct was very harmful," said Rebekah Kopec-Farrell, Director of the Legal Services Program at the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (ARCW). "Our state has laws that explicitly protect people living with HIV from discrimination, and our community's healthcare providers should be our first line of defense in the fight against the misinformation and fear that fuels such discrimination."

The case is Rose v. Cahee, et al.

Scott Schoettes, HIV Project Staff Attorney, is handling the case for Lambda Legal. He is joined by co-counsel Rebekah Kopec-Farrell of AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin and Katherine Devine of Schiff Hardin LLP.

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Contact Info

Contact: Jonathan Adams 212-809-8585 ext 267; jadams@lambdalegal.org

ARCW: Bill Keeton 414-225-1572; Cell: 414-313-2036

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

ARCW provides HIV medical, dental and mental health care as well as legal services, housing assistance, and food pantries to people with HIV throughout Wisconsin.