News - February 1996

ACLU Secures Final Victory in Groundbreaking AIDS Bias Case

TOLEDO -- A $350,000 settlement was announced Jan. 23 in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against a doctor and hospital for refusing to treat a man with AIDS. The settlement closes a precedent-setting case that paved the way for people with HIV to be protected under federal law.

"We brought this case to prohibit doctors and hospitals from refusing to treat people with HIV," said Marc E. Elovitz, staff attorney for the ACLU's AIDS Project. "In clear language, a federal court has sent a warning to medical professionals that they are not exempt from federal non-discrimination laws. This settlement will drive that point home."

The case was brought in 1992 on behalf of Fred L. Charon, who was traveling through Ohio when he suffered a severe allergic reaction. He was rushed to a nearby hospital in Fremont, Ohio only to be refused treatment when the admitting physician, Dr. Charles Hull who was quoted as saying "if you get an AIDS patient in the hospital, you will never get them out" learned of his HIV status.

The ACLU brought suit against Dr. Hull and the Fremont Memorial Hospital for violating federal law. In an initial victory, a federal jury in June 1994 awarded Charon $512,000 in punitive and compensatory damages, finding the doctor and hospital in violation of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Several months later, federal district Judge John Potter ruled that the defendants' actions also violated the Americans With Disabilities Act, and enjoined them from further violations of the law. The hospital and doctor was ordered to post signs in waiting rooms informing patients with HIV of their right not to be denied treatment.

In reaching his decision, Judge Potter rejected the defendants' argument that there is a "medical exception" to non-discrimination laws, as well as a number of arguments that would have denied people with HIV the right to challenge unfair treatment.

It was the first decision applying the 1992 law to prohibit doctors and hospitals from denying care to individuals because of their HIV status. The settlement announced today ends the defendants' appeal of that decision.

Although Charon passed away on March 25, 1993, the suit was continued by his surviving partner, Bruce Howe, who represents Charon's estate. The case was tried by the ACLU's Elovitz and cooperating attorneys for the ACLU of Ohio, Ellen Simon (a partner with the Cleveland law firm of Spangenberg, Shibley, Lancione & Liber) and Doris Wohl (principal of the Toledo law firm of Wohl & Associates).

"More than one million people in America are infected with HIV," said Ms. Simon. "This victory and settlement confirm that discrimination against people with HIV is wrong and will not be tolerated."

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