Final Approval of $4 Million Settlement in Gilead Class Action Lawsuit
An Alabama man was mortified when an envelope for him turned up in his workplace mailroom with the return address HIV Prevention Team in bold red lettering. An Indiana man, so protective of his confidentiality that he fills his HIV-related prescriptions at a different pharmacy chain from where he gets his other medications, was shocked to receive the same mailing. And a Missouri man, who lives in a 22-unit apartment building, found the mailer addressed to him in plain view on top of the residents’ mailboxes.
These are just three instances in which the mailing from the California-based Big Pharma firm Gilead Sciences stunned recipients. Gilead develops and sells prescription drugs, including those for treatment and prevention of HIV. Its drugs include Truvada and Descovy, the only ones available for the prescribed medication regimen known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (“PrEP”) for people who want to avoid contracting HIV.
The company maintains a patient-assistance program to provide free or discounted PrEP to enrollees. The patient assistance program also provides free or discounted medication for treatment of HIV. The enrollment form states that “[p]atient confidentiality is of primary importance to us. All patient information will remain confidential.” Participants may even opt out of any Gilead marketing efforts.
But despite its promise of privacy, Gilead sent the mailer to enrolled participants with the return address printed in a bold red font: “HIV Prevention Team.” The mailers were sent to home or workplace addresses that enrollees provided.
On May 21, 2020, the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, joined by law firms Berger Montague and Langer Grogan & Diver, sued Gilead for violating the privacy of people enrolled in its patient assistance program. The case originally was filed in federal court in California, then was voluntarily dismissed and refiled in California Superior Court on Oct. 20, 2020.
In signing up for Gilead’s Patient Assistance program, Gilead customers were promised confidentiality and did not expect or agree to receive mail from Gilead that would link them to HIV. Stigma surrounding HIV has led to discrimination in employment, housing, education, and health care – and even violence. Fear of that stigma is widely recognized as contributing to the AIDS epidemic by discouraging people from getting tested.
The case differs from other data breaches of credit card numbers or online shopping accounts because it involves the public disclosure of stigmatizing personal information. Given Gilead’s successes in providing medications to people living with or at risk of acquiring HIV, participants expected and deserved better.
Gilead has apologized for the incident but denied the allegations in the complaint.
After extensive negotiations between attorneys for the plaintiffs and the company, a motion for preliminary approval of a settlement agreement was filed in the Superior Court of California, San Mateo County. On January 19, 2023, The Judge granted preliminary approval of the Settlement. On February 23, 2023 notices were sent to class members.
Under the terms of the settlement agreement, each class member will receive at least $100. Class members could also submit claims for up to $2,000 for reasonable non-reimbursed out-of-pocket expenses they may have incurred that were directly caused by the mailer, including any moving costs, medical or counseling costs, or loss of income. Up to $500 was also available to class members who experienced emotional distress, anxiety, or fear as a direct result of the mailer. The agreement calls for extensive measures to protect the privacy of the plaintiffs. Settlement distribution will begin on August 11, 2023.
For questions about the settlement, please contact the AIDS Law Project at 215-587-9377.
California Superior Court for the County of San Mateo
July 14, 2021: Final Approval Order and Judgment
January 19, 2023: Order Granting Preliminary Approval of Class Action Settlement
- Declarations in Support of Settlement Agreement: John Albanese, Ronda Goldfein, Kroll, Positive Women’s Network
October 21, 2022: Motion for Preliminary Approval of Class Action Settlement
- Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion for Preliminary Approval
- Declarations in Support of Settlement Agreement: Shanon Carson, John Grogan
August 25, 2021: Plaintiffs’ First Amended Complaint
January 25, 2021: Defendant’s General Denial and Affirmative Defenses
October 20, 2020: Gilead Sciences Motion to Strike Class Allegations, Gilead Sciences Demurrer
Northern District of California
August 31, 2020: Notice of Voluntarily Dismissal Without Prejudice
August 17, 2020: Gilead Motion to Dismiss
May 22, 2020
- Philadelphia Inquirer – HIV drug patients’ privacy violated by Gilead, lawsuit claims