HIV Discrimination Outside Work

Outside of the employment context, what laws protect a person living with HIV (PLWH) from discrimination, such as in obtaining services or securing housing?

In addition to protecting people from employment discrimination, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also protects PLWH from discrimination in accessing public or private services. (Certain private services such as medical care, restaurants, hotels, hair salons, etc., are often referred to in the law as “public accommodations,” because they “accommodate” members of the general public.)

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which came before the ADA, prevents discrimination based on HIV status (and other disabilities) by those receiving federal funding. The Fair Housing Act prevents housing discrimination against people living with HIV.

And now, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the “ACA” or “Obamacare”) has provisions designed to prevent discrimination against people living with HIV within the health insurance industry.

Many states—though not all—also have nondiscrimination laws that mirror the protections of the ADA and/or the Fair Housing Act.

If I am discriminated against while using public accommodations, what recourse do I have under the ADA and/or the Rehabilitation Act?

Through a lawsuit under either statute, you may be able to get a court order requiring the public accommodation to stop discriminating against you. Under the ADA, however, no individual can obtain monetary damages for public accommodations discrimination—not even a private attorney working on your behalf. (The ADA’s workplace provisions do allow for such damages.) If the government sues on your behalf, however, it may be able to win you monetary damages. In order to see if the government is interested in filing a lawsuit to address your situation, contact the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Disability Rights.

The Rehabilitation Act and some state laws, on the other hand, do allow private individuals to sue for monetary damages against service providers that discriminate. You should be aware, though, that it can be more challenging than in the employment setting to set a dollar amount on the type of harm experienced when someone is discriminated against at a public accommodation.

If I believe I have been discriminated against by a rental agent, landlord or in the process of buying a home, what should I do?

From the moment you think there may be something wrong, start documenting what is happening. Examples of this include keeping all documents and emails related to the transaction, inviting a friend to participate in future conversations, asking the other party (or parties) to put things in writing and creating a log of what happens and is said. Collecting and creating as many of these types of evidence as possible will make it easier for an attorney to evaluate your situation, as well as increase the chances of winning a case should it end up in court. To have your situation evaluated, reach out to an attorney, a legal organization or a government agency that addresses housing discrimination. For guidance on where to turn, contact Lambda Legal's Help Desk.

If I face discrimination at an assisted living facility, what should I do?

From the moment you think there may be something wrong, start documenting what is happening. Examples of this include keeping all documents and emails related to the transaction, inviting a friend to participate in future conversations, asking the other party (or parties) to put things in writing and creating a log of what happens and is said. Collecting and creating as many of these types of evidence as possible will make it easier for an attorney to evaluate your situation, as well as increase the chances of winning a case should it end up in court. To have your situation evaluated, reach out to an attorney, a legal organization, a government agency that addresses housing discrimination or the Department of Justice, which may handle certain disability discrimination claims with respect to assisted livings context. For guidance on where to turn, contact Lambda Legal's Help Desk.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact our Help Desk if you feel you have experienced discrimination.