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Department of Justice Settles with Cosmetology School in Puerto Rico on Allegations of HIV Discrimination

By Allison Nichol, J.D.

February 9, 2011

Allison Nichol, U.S. DOJ.

Allison Nichol, U.S. DOJ.

Last month the Justice Department announced the settlement of an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) complaint against Modern Hairstyling Institute Inc. in Bayamón, Puerto Rico.

The Justice Department initiated its investigation in response to an allegation that Modern Hairstyling Institute Inc. discriminated against an HIV-positive applicant by denying her enrollment. Modern Hairstyling Institute Inc.'s cooperation in arriving at this agreement was an important factor in resolving the matter promptly, the department said.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Modern Hairstyling Institute Inc. made an offer of enrollment to the complainant, will cease requesting information about HIV/AIDS status from future applicants, and will provide training to all employees about discrimination on the basis of disability. Modern Hairstyling Institute Inc. will also pay a $5,000 civil penalty to the United States and $8,000 in damages to the complainant.

"It is critical that we continue to work to eradicate discriminatory and stigmatizing treatment towards individuals with HIV," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The ADA clearly protects individuals with HIV and other disabilities from this kind of exclusion or marginalization."


Title III of the ADA prohibits public accommodations, such as Modern Hairstyling Institute Inc. from excluding people with disabilities, including people with HIV, from enjoying the services, goods and accommodations provided. Those interested in learning out more about federal disability rights statutes can call the Justice Department's toll-free ADA information line at 800-514-0301, 800-514-0383 (TTY), or access the ADA website at You may also wish to read The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rights of Persons with HIV/AIDS to Obtain Occupational Training and State Licensing and Questions and Answers: the ADA and Persons with HIV/AIDS.

The stigma associated with HIV remains extremely high and fear of discrimination causes some Americans to avoid learning their HIV status, disclosing their status, or accessing medical care. Consequently, the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) identified reducing stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV as a key tactic in national efforts to reduce HIV-related health disparities. The accompanying NHAS Federal Implementation Plan calls upon the Department of Justice to enhance cooperation with other Federal agencies to facilitate enforcement of Federal antidiscrimination laws. Read an excerpt from the NHAS (PDF 90KB) about the important role that enforcement of antidiscrimination laws plays in changing the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Allison Nichol, J.D. is the Deputy Chief, Disability Rights Section in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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