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Justice Department Issues Letter Regarding Illegal Exclusion of Individuals With HIV/AIDS From Occupational Training and State Licensing

April 19, 2011

Allison Nichol, U.S. DOJ.

Allison Nichol, U.S. DOJ.

The Justice Department has issued letters to the attorneys general of all 50 states, as well as U.S. territories to request their assistance in addressing the illegal exclusion of individuals with HIV/AIDS from occupational training and state licensing. Persons with HIV and persons with AIDS are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which gives federal civil rights protections to persons with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, and state and local government services. 

The Justice Department has learned that public and private trade schools for barbering, cosmetology, massage therapy, home health care work and other occupations, as well as state licensing agencies, may be illegally denying individuals with HIV/AIDS admission to trade schools and/or occupational licenses because of their HIV status.  However, because HIV cannot be transmitted by casual contact or by the circumstances present in these occupations, HIV-positive status is irrelevant.

In his letter to the attorneys general, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas E. Perez asked that they review their respective jurisdictions' admission and licensing criteria for trade schools and licensing agencies to identify the existence of any criteria that unlawfully exclude or discriminate against persons with HIV/AIDS, and to take the steps necessary to bring all such programs into compliance with the ADA. 

The department recently entered into a settlement agreement with a private cosmetology school in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, for delaying the admission of an HIV-positive individual.  That settlement agreement requires the school to remove questions about applicants' HIV/AIDS status and to promptly enroll the aggrieved individual in its cosmetology program.  The department has also addressed related issues in its guidance entitled "Questions and Answers: The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rights of Persons with HIV/AIDS to Obtain Occupational Training and State Licensing."

This action supports the National HIV/AIDS Strategy's call to reduce stigma and discrimination experienced by people living with HIV.  Even today, some people living with HIV still face discrimination in many areas of life including employment, housing, provision of health care services, and access to public accommodations.  This undermines efforts to encourage all people to learn their HIV status, and it makes it harder for people to disclose their HIV status to their medical providers, their sex partners, and even clergy and others from whom they may seek understanding and support.  Vigorous enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and other civil rights laws is vital to establishing an environment where people will feel safe in getting tested and seeking treatment.  So the National HIV/AIDS Strategy calls upon the Department of Justice and Federal agencies to strengthen enforcement of these civil rights laws.

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

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