A Pennsylvania HIV/AIDS agency filed suit on World AIDS Day against a private Lancaster County medical practice for its refusal to treat an HIV-positive man.
The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania brought the suit against Stephen G. Diamantoni, M.D., & Associates Family Practice, co-owned by the Lancaster County coroner, Dec. 1 on behalf of a man, his wife and daughter. In the suit, the family chose to be identified as Husband Jones, Wife Jones and Daughter Jones, to protect the identity of their underage daughter.
The suit contends the practice violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, specifically by denying the husband and wife public accommodations based on his HIV status, as well as intentionally inflicting emotional distress on all three.
AIDS Law Project executive director Ronda Goldfein said the agency hoped to bring attention to the fact that discrimination is still alive and well by filing the complaint on World AIDS Day.
“One of the components of why AIDS is still such a problem is discrimination,” Goldfein, co-counsel on the case, said. “The stigma that people with AIDS face fuels the epidemic.
“Jones is just a conscientious family man,” Goldfein added. “He never expected to get shut out of a doctor’s office because he is HIV-positive.”
According to the complaint, Dr. Jeffrey Trost delivered a letter to Husband Jones Oct. 8, 2013, four days after the patient had blood drawn for the first time at the office. The letter stated that Jones left large amounts of blood in the office bathroom, “all over the sink, walls and floor,” and proceeded to ask him and his family to leave the practice.
“It seems you may not have appropriate concern for those who would like to take care of you and those around you,” the letter concluded. It was signed by one of the practice’s owners, Dr. William Vollmar.
“This outrageous story is just a false pretext for denying care to a man because of his HIV status,” said Goldfein. “This fabrication depicts our client as a reckless person, but in fact he’s a conscientious family man who sought out health care before moving to the area. It strains credulity that he would then do something like this.”
“The law is clear: You can’t refuse to treat a person simply because he or she has a disability — in this case, HIV,” added Sarah R. Schalman-Bergen, an attorney at Berger & Montague and co-counsel in the case. “Also, these protections extend to anyone else associated with a disabled person, including their family.”
In June 2013, Jones and his family moved to Lancaster County from South Carolina. Jones contacted the Diamantoni practice in advance of the move to secure health care for himself and his family. He made several visits to the practice in June, July and August without incident. At each visit, Jones discussed his medications and lab results with a Diamantoni physician.
During that time, prior to each visit, Jones had his blood drawn at a different facility other than a Diamantoni-practice office, by health-care providers unaffiliated with the practice.
Stephen G. Diamantoni, who has been the Lancaster County coroner since 2008, did not personally treat Jones.
On Oct. 4, 2013, Jones had his blood drawn at the Diamantoni practice for the first time during a routine visit to the practice’s Quarryville location. The phlebotomist drew his blood and applied a Band-Aid, consistent with protocol for this procedure, according to the complaint.
After the blood draw, Jones used the restroom and proceeded to the receptionist desk to check out. Before leaving the office, Jones returned to the restroom to retrieve a cup he had left behind, according to the complaint.
When he returned four days later to review the results of the blood work, he had a routine discussion with Trost about his lab results. At the end of the discussion, Trost said, “Let’s talk about the restroom” and handed Jones the letter dismissing him and his family from the practice, according to the complaint.
Jones says he was not bleeding after the draw and had done nothing to himself to cause bleeding in the bathroom. No one at the Diamantoni practice mentioned he was bleeding either, even after he passed the receptionist desk twice.
Nor did anyone from the practice call Jones to inquire if he was experiencing any clinical complications, despite allegedly leaving “a large amount of blood in the bathroom,” as stated in the dismissal letter.
Jones protested to Trost, who directed him to the office manager, who was unavailable. Later that day, Jones received a call from the receptionist, who stated the decision to dismiss Jones and his family was final.
Goldfein is confident that the letter will make it extremely difficult for the defense to prove that their discriminatory actions were not based on Jones’ HIV status.
“I know that their letter, which is in our complaint, makes it pretty clear that they said, ‘You left large amounts of blood in the bathroom,’” Goldfein said. “I don’t know what they think he was doing in the bathroom. They said he ‘had no regard for the people around him.’ It’s hard to suggest that this case is about anything other than his HIV status. Sometimes you get into a messy ‘he said, she said’ situation, but when they send a letter like that, it’s hard to argue against it.”
Convenience, according to Goldfein, is what prompted Jones to use facilities other than Diamantoni locations.
“I think it was just a question of convenience. He was never intentionally not going to the practice to get his blood drawn. It was just logistics as he was relocating,” she said. “And then at his last regular visit, they were just like, ‘Oh, why don’t you do it here this time?’”
It is unclear whether or not the Diamantoni practice was aware of Jones’ HIV status prior to his having bloodwork done there.
“I know he arranged for an appointment before he moved, and he was accepted as a patient,” Goldfein said. “I don’t know how much they knew about his health before he got here. I know he had some conversations with Dr. Trost, but it was not until they had bloodwork done at their office did a problem arise.”
According to the complaint, Jones was diagnosed with HIV in 1992, is compliant with his antiretroviral medications and his HIV disease has been well-controlled since approximately 2006. Neither his wife nor daughter is HIV-positive.
Among other things, the suit seeks that the Diamantoni practice develop an anti-discrimination policy and conduct training for all staff regarding HIV disease, transmission and universal precautions. It seeks awards for compensatory and punitive damages, costs and attorneys’ fees.
A separate complaint has also been filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, according to Goldfein.
From our media partner Philadelphia Gay News