Correctional Facility Settles Inmate’s HIV Bias Suit

March 6, 2024 Law 360

By Patrick Hoff 

Law360 (March 6, 2024, 2:22 PM EST) — A Pennsylvania county and a private correctional facility management company agreed to end a former inmate’s suit claiming he was unlawfully barred from working in the kitchen after his HIV status was improperly disclosed, his attorneys announced Wednesday.

Delaware County, the GEO Group and the formerly incarcerated man, who proceeded anonymously as John Doe, said in a federal court filing that Doe’s Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act claims should be dismissed with prejudice.

Adrian Lowe, representing Doe, told Law360 the settlement agreement provides an undisclosed amount of financial compensation to Doe and requires the George W. Hill Correctional Facility to change its policies to comply with discrimination and privacy laws. The facility was operated by GEO when Doe was incarcerated there from February 2020 to July 2020 but deprivatized and returned to Delaware County’s control in April 2022.

Doe filed suit against the GEO Group and the county in April 2022. According to his complaint, he was diagnosed with HIV in mid-January 2020 and disclosed this information only to his doctor and his two closest friends, as well as the medical staff at the correctional facility when he was arrested held on drug possession charges in February 2020.

Doe said he was housed in the general population block, where he was harassed because he’s gay and became fearful of violence. When he reported the harassment to a correctional officer, Doe was encouraged to apply for a prison job, which would allow him to move into a workers’ housing block, according to the complaint.

In March 2020, Doe applied for a job in the kitchen, but when he went to attend a mandatory food safety class, he was blocked from entering and subsequently told that he hadn’t been medically cleared, the complaint said. After asking for more information, Doe said a nurse told him that his HIV diagnosis meant he wasn’t allowed to work certain jobs, even though a doctor at the facility told him he should be able to work in the kitchen.

Additionally, it soon became general knowledge at the facility that Doe was HIV-positive, which led to more harassment, according to the complaint. Doe said he filed several grievances about the disclosure of his confidential medical information and the denial of a prison job, but he was simply told he couldn’t work in kitchen, medical or barber positions without officers ever performing an individualized assessment of him.

Doe eventually began working as a sanitation worker at the facility in mid-June 2020, a job he held until he was released the following month, according to the complaint.

Lowe, an attorney at AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, said in a news release that unlawful HIV discrimination and HIV status disclosure “happens all too often in the corrections context and goes largely unaddressed.”

“Discrimination against people living with HIV is illegal,” Lowe said. “What is illegal on the outside doesn’t become legal behind bars.”

Representatives of Delaware County and the GEO Group did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

John Doe is represented by Mary Catherine Roper and John J. Grogan of Langer Grogan & Diver, by Richard Saenz of the Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund and by Ronda B. Goldfein and Adrian M. Lowe of AIDS Law Project Of Pennsylvania.

Delaware County and the GEO Group are represented by Matthew H. Fry of Burns White LLC.

The case is Doe v. Delaware County et al., case number 5:22-cv-01405, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

–Editing by Roy LeBlanc.