U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: FAQs on Same-Sex Marriages

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency overseeing immigration to the United States, has published frequently asked questions concerning the Supreme Court’s recent invalidation of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

To learn about the ruling’s effect on immigration policy, including visa petitions filed on behalf of a same-sex spouses, click here.

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Dealing with Unemployment Service Center Busy Signals

Prepared by Community Legal Services, Inc.
1424 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19102; www.clsphila.org

Have you been calling the UC Service Center for hours or days about your unemployment claim without getting past a busy signal?  It’s not that your phone (or their phone) is broken.  It is that the State does not have enough staff to answer the phone.

Here are some tips for how to get around the busy signals.  Not all of them get you immediate access, but they probably will be more reliable than just hitting redial and hoping.

1. Filing a new claim?  Try the online application.  It is available on the website of the PA Department of Labor and Industry.  Here’s the exact link: https://www.paclaims.state.pa.us/UCEN/Welcome.asp

2. Try faxing the office, and they will call you back.  Use the form provided by clicking here.

3 Ask your state legislator’s office to help you.  His or her “constituent service” staff can often cut through red tape for you.  If you don’t know who your representative or senator is, check at this link: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/findyourlegislator/#address

4. Go to a PA Career Link office.  The Career Link offices, which provide services to job seekers, have telephones that cut through the busy signals and go straight to a UC case worker.  Beware, though, that you may need to wait in a lengthy line.  Don’t know where to find the nearest Career Link?  Use this website to find it:  www.cwds.state.pa.us

5. Have a sticky issue with your UC claim and are low income?  Contact your legal services office.  They may be able to help you solve it.  Don’t know how to reach your local legal services program?  Use this website to find it: http://palawhelp.org/PA

When all else fails:  call the statewide toll-free number for the UC Service Centers (888-313-7284), and get that redialing finger ready!

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MILTON HERSHEY SCHOOL CASE: A student’s fight against HIV discrimination


Honors student, deemed a threat, was denied admission. AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, U.S. Department of Justice, school enter settlement agreement.

PHILADELPHIA (Sept. 12, 2012) – A 14-year-old ninth grader and his mother will receive $700,000 from the Milton Hershey School in a federal AIDS-discrimination lawsuit settlement announced today by the nonprofit AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania.

The school also will pay $15,000 in civil penalties assessed by the U.S. Department of Justice, which thoroughly investigated the complaint and concluded that the school violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The settlement requires the school to provide HIV training for its staff and students and to pay an undisclosed amount of attorney’s fees to the AIDS Law Project.

The Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Pa., founded in 1909 by the chocolate magnate and his wife, had refused to enroll the honor-roll student because he has HIV, saying his presence would be a “direct threat” to the health and safety of other students. The school held to its position for more than a year, even after the Philadelphia-based public-interest law firm filed the suit on Nov. 30, 2011, in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleging violations of anti-discrimination laws.

On June 1, in denying the school’s request to move the case from Philadelphia to central Pennsylvania, U.S. District Judge C. Darnell Jones II wrote that “the issue involved in this case is … relevant to the lives of over one million HIV-infected people nationwide, many of whom are currently in congregate-living settings and are not creating a direct threat to others.”

Finally, on Aug. 6, the school’s president, Anthony J. Colistra, publicly apologized to the student and to his mother, offered to reconsider the boy’s application, and announced “a new Equal Opportunity Policy clearly stating that the School treats applicants with HIV no differently than any other applicants.” Colistra said the school also was “developing and providing mandatory training for staff and students on HIV issues and expanding our current training on Universal Precautions.”

The student and his mother have decided it is not in his best interest to attend the school, and they will use the money to provide other educational opportunities for him.

In announcing the settlement today, Ronda B. Goldfein Esq., executive director of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, said it removes any lingering doubt about whether someone with HIV poses a threat in everyday life.

“This case renewed a nationwide discussion about whether people with HIV represent a risk to others in casual settings,” Goldfein said. “The question has once again been definitively answered: They do not.”

Goldfein said a settlement of this size acknowledges that the pain of stigma is just as real as any other type of injury or harm inflicted upon a person. “In this case, our client suffered from learning that simply because he has a virus, he was considered a threat,” Goldfein said.

Sarah R. Schalman-Bergen Esq., who worked with Goldfein on the lawsuit, said the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal and state laws clearly “prohibit discrimination on the basis of a real or even a perceived disability, including having HIV.” She added that the National Association of State Boards of Education has decreed that “the presence of a person living with HIV infection or diagnosed with AIDS poses no significant risk to others in school, day care, or school athletic settings.”

Identified in court filings by a pseudonym to protect his privacy, “Abraham Smith” is a public school scholar-athlete who lives in Delaware County, Pa, near Philadelphia.

“I am very glad this is over,” Abraham said today. “It should have never been an issue in the first place. I will never recoup my eighth-grade year in school. Though I had a good one academically, I was too engulfed with this … to enjoy the fun of going to high school. Now it’s time for me to start healing internally and my mother said that will come in time also.”

From the day it was filed, the case generated massive media coverage and sparked a firestorm of outrage. An online petition [http://chn.ge/P5Qjs6] at the website Change.org gathered nearly 30,000 signatures demanding that the school issue a public apology. In an emotional plea [http://huff.to/RL9BY1] headlined Shame on the Milton Hershey School!, the actress and social activist Mia Farrow wrote in the Huffington Post: “Abraham’s plight reminds me of the 1980s when Ryan White, a child with AIDS, was not allowed to attend school. It is remarkable that 30 years later, we are still dealing with the same ignorance and discriminatory practices.” Protesters demonstrated outside the Hershey Co.’s flagship store in New York’s Times Square in March and outside a Hershey Co. stockholder meeting in May. The school is funded by the Hershey Trust Co., the chocolate company’s largest shareholder.

The landmark settlement is the latest victory in the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania’s 24-year history of activism on behalf of people with HIV and AIDS. In 1994, after a Philadelphia ambulance crew refused to touch a patient with HIV, the firm won the nation’s first settlement of an AIDS-discrimination case under the Americans with Disabilities Act, forcing the city to begin training more than 2,000 firefighters and emergency medical workers to prevent discrimination against people with AIDS or HIV in medical emergencies.


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HIV-positive nursing assistant settles employment-discrimination claim


 Contact: Ronda B. Goldfein, Esq. ▪ Executive Director
Phone: (215) 587-9377 ▪ Fax: (215) 587-9902

HIV-positive nursing assistant settles
employment-discrimination claim

PHILADELPHIA (March 23, 2012) — A national healthcare-staffing firm must change its ways and must pay $22,000 to an HIV-positive nursing assistant, under the terms of an employment-discrimination settlement announced today by the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania.

The nonprofit Philadelphia-based law firm and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had sued Pittsburgh-based Capital Healthcare Solutions for rescinding an employment offer to plaintiff D.B. of central Pennsylvania after learning he has HIV.

The company offered D.B. a job in September 2010, but rescinded its offer less than a month later because of his HIV status. In response to a question on a required medical-exam form asking if the applicant had any communicable diseases, D.B.’s doctor noted that he was HIV-positive but could perform the job.

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal and state laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of a real or even a perceived disability, including HIV.

As part of the settlement, Capital Healthcare Solutions agrees to not engage in discriminatory employment practices on the basis of disability, real or perceived; to provide mandatory employee trainings, and to develop internal policies and procedures to prevent future discrimination.

Capital Healthcare Solutions also agrees to pay $22,000 to D.B. — $20,000 as compensatory and punitive damages and $2,000 as back pay — although it has not admitted wrongdoing or liability.

“I’m happy the company finally settled this,” D.B. said. “They’re a health-care company. They should know about HIV and how it is transmitted, not through casual contact. They should have known better.”

Despite the federal and state legal protections for people with HIV in the workplace, occupational-licensing requirements – such as those governing certified nursing assistants – have been a source of confusion to prospective employers and others. This confusion places HIV-positive applicants, seeking jobs for which state licensing is required, at great risk of discrimination.

In Pennsylvania, occupational-licensing requirements prohibit the employment of anyone with an “infectious, contagious and communicable disease,” although those terms are used inconsistently and imprecisely. Seeking to prevent discrimination in the 50 professions and occupations governed by occupational-licensing requirements, the AIDS Law Project has worked with the Pennsylvania Department of State to clarify the requirements. As a result of the AIDS Law Project’s efforts, the Department of State issued a clarification in January 2011, specifically excluding HIV as an infectious, communicable or contagious disease, “because it is not transmitted through casual contact or through the usual practice of the profession or occupation for which a license is required.”

A copy of the consent decree can be found by clicking here and the Pennsylvania Department of State Occupational Licensing Statement is available by clicking here.

D.B. was represented by Ronda B. Goldfein, Esq., and Matt Mossman (J.D. expected 2012) of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, and by Lisa H. Hernandez, Senior Trial Attorney of the EEOC.

Capital Healthcare Solutions was represented by Dinsmore & Shohl LLP.

#  #  #

The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania is a nonprofit, public- interest law firm, serving the legal needs of those affected by HIV/AIDS and their families. Founded in 1988, and now with a staff of 12, the organization has helped more than 32,000 people free of charge. The agency also educates the public about AIDS-related legal issues, and works at local, state and national levels to achieve fair laws and policies.


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Prescription coverage limits for some Medicaid recipients

On January 3, 2012, the state reduced pharmacy coverage to 6 prescriptions per month for adults in fee-for-service Medical Assistance (ACCESS).

If you are in a Medical Assistance managed care plan and your plan adopts the 6 prescription limit, it must notify you by letter, 30 days before the change.

As of this writing (3/1/12), United Healthcare implemented prescription limits on 3/1/12 and UPMC for You has a target implementation on 5/1/12. Keystone, Amerihealth, and Gateway will implement the limits but do not yet have target dates.  Aetna, Coventry Cares, and Health Partners still don’t have plans to implement the limit.

Drugs to treat HIV/AIDS are not subject to this 6 prescription limit because they are covered by an “automatic exception.”  Many other types of drugs are also covered by automatic exceptions. (Please see the Pennsylvania Health Law Project’s Fact Sheet for the complete list). This means that, if possible, you should try to have prescriptions that are not covered by automatic exceptions filled early in the month and prescriptions that are covered by automatic exceptions filled later in the month.

If you are unable to fill a prescription because of this limit, you can ask your doctor to request an exception for that prescription.  Your pharmacist can also provide a 5 day emergency supply.

For more information, click here for the Pennsylvania Health Law Project’s Fact Sheet or here for the Department of Public Welfare’s Bulletin on the Pharmacy Benefit Package Change.  

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Appellate court affirms victory in personal care home case

A Pennsylvania appellate court has ruled in favor of our client, a woman wrongfully kicked out of a personal care home because she has HIV.

Last year, the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania scored a huge victory for the client: After a two-day public hearing, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) issued a decision awarding our client $50,000 plus interest, and ordered the personal care home to implement a non-discrimination policy. The personal care home remained adamant they had done nothing wrong and appealed the decision.

Now, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has issued an opinion affirming the PHRC’s decision in all respects.

In a forceful, published opinion, the Commonwealth Court also awarded delay damages and attorneys fees assessed against both the defendant and their counsel. Specifically, the Court held that the appeal had no basis in fact or law and was taken only to delay payment to our client.

Sarah Schalman-Bergen, of counsel to the AIDS Law Project and associate at Berger & Montague, P.C., was co-counsel on this case.

For more, see stories on the ruling in The Morning Call newspaper here:

And in the Pennsylvania Law Weekly here:

The opinion can be read here:

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“Before and After” Comparison of Recent Changes to Pennsylvania’s HIV-testing Law

Below is an easy reference guide to changes made in 2011 to Pennsylvania’s Confidentiality of HIV-Related Information Act (known as Act 148) regarding HIV testing:

“Old” Act 148

“New” Act 148/Act 59

You must initiate an HIV test by asking for one. An HIV test may be offered in an “opt-out” format, meaning that the patient is advised that an HIV test will be performed unless she or he specifically declines it.
You must give your consent in writing before you can be given an HIV test. Written informed consent is not required for an HIV test. Instead, the health care provider shall “document” the patient’s consent or refusal to the test.[1]
You must be given negative and positive HIV test results and counseling in person (“face to face”). Results may not be given by mail or by phone. Negative test results no longer need to be given in person. (Positive test results still must be given in person.)
You must get pre-test and post-test counseling. Counseling before you get an HIV test isn’t required, though the test must be explained to you, including its purpose, how it could be used, its limitations and the meaning of the results.


[1] The new law does not specify how the documentation shall be made.

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State Jobs Policy Improves for People with HIV/AIDS

The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania has persuaded the state to revise regulations on occupational and professional licensing to protect workers and job applicants with HIV.

Harnessing the support of then-Gov. Ed Rendell, the AIDS Law Project was able to get a decades-old policy statement updated in January to specifically exclude HIV as a disease that would bar people from being employed or accepted for job training.

Nearly 30 state licensing boards had been bound by language that could create roadblocks for people with “infectious,” “contagious” and “communicable” diseases.

“The state regulations were using those terms interchangeably, without definition and without recognizing that HIV is not transmitted in a workplace,” said Executive Director Ronda B. Goldfein, Esq. “The new statement clarifies that those terms are not to be applied to people with HIV, thereby protecting them from job discrimination.”

The licensing policy covers dozens of jobs and professions in Pennsylvania, including: barbers, cosmetologists, pharmacists, nurses, nursing assistants, physical therapists, podiatrists and optometrists.

The AIDS Law Project’s effort to clarify the policy stemmed from a 2006 case in which an HIV-positive client had been denied admission to a cosmetology school that interpreted the state’s rules as barring him from taking a licensing exam. As part of the successful resolution of that case, the state cosmetology board issued a statement that its licensing requirements should not exclude people with HIV.

A recent case in which a nursing assistant faced a similar roadblock, prompted the AIDS Law Project to push to clarify the state’s umbrella policy governing all licensing boards.

Rendell supported the policy update after Goldfein conferred with then-Commonwealth Secretary Basil Merenda in a meeting arranged by Michael Marsico, then-deputy director of the governor’s office. Former AIDS Law Project staffer Patrick J. Egan, now assistant professor of politics and public policy at New York University, served as an adviser to Goldfein during the process.

“The new policy makes Pennsylvania consistent with federal law,” said Merenda. “Now, people who have an HIV disability can pursue the professions they want to work in, that they have the experience and qualifications to be licensed in.

“They can be productive members of society and help people, as well as achieve their own dreams.”

The new policy statement posted on the website of the state’s Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, now spells out that the “the Bureau, in accordance with the ADA and the guidance from the United States Department of Justice, has determined that, for the purposes of administering the professional and occupational licensing laws over which it or any of its 29 licensing Boards have jurisdiction, the terms  ‘infectious disease,’ ‘communicable disease’ or ‘contagious disease’ do not include diseases, such as HIV, that are not transmitted through casual contact or through the usual practice of the profession or occupation for which a license is required.”

The Bureau’s full statement can be on the Department of State’s website. http://www.dos.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/licensing/12483

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