California Man Denied Service at Barbershop for HIV Status Wins Court Case

Associate Editor
evrim ertik via iStock

A California judge ruled in favor of Nikko Briteramos, who sued a Los Angeles barbershop that refused to cut his hair because he is living with HIV, according to a statement from Lambda Legal.

According to the judgment, which is available online, Briteramos was awarded $75,000 as well as attorney's fees and litigation costs.

"This judgment is proof that what happened to me in that barbershop -- and what happens to people living with HIV who experience discrimination just trying to do basic things in life like go to the dentist or get a haircut -- is simply not acceptable," Briteramos said in a statement. "Such discriminatory practices harken back to times not too distant during the period of American 'Jim Crow' and are equally unjust. I am even more grateful that I can continue to tell my story through the Cut the Stigma campaign and share with people how harmful these moments of discrimination can be to those living daily with HIV and to the fabric of society."

Anthony Pinggera, a law fellow at Lambda Legal who led the case, called the ruling a "terrific affirmation" for Briteramos. "This is the end of Nikko's case, but our work to raise necessary awareness in black communities around the country to the ongoing issues surrounding HIV discrimination continues through our partnership with the Black AIDS Institute on the Cut the Stigma campaign."

The incident at the heart of the case happened in October 2017, when Briteramos showed up at a barbershop in Los Angeles and was denied a haircut because a barber from his hometown of Chicago who knew his HIV status recognized him and disclosed his status to others in the shop. The owner asked Briteramos to leave.

In a previous interview with TheBody, Briteramos said he was "caught off guard" by the refusal, especially since it took place in a black barbershop.

"The barbershop is one of the best places to hear other people's opinions," Briteramos said. "[In the complaint] I said it was a men's club. It's a neutral ground for people to talk about things that are sometimes political or economic or just entertainment: the things that make people happy. That's a very important thing to expose yourself to. It's an experience that is, to me, vital and necessary to being part of society."

He added, "So, that's the irony of this: The very part of America that I need to expose myself to is sometimes the part that is going to be most likely to look me up and subsequently discriminate against me."

The case also led Lambda Legal and the Black AIDS Institute to launch Cut the Stigma, a public education campaign aimed at black businesses, including barbershops, to dispel misconceptions around HIV.