Lancaster County coroner’s private medical practice hit with federal lawsuit for denying treatment to HIV-positive man and his family
PHILADELPHIA (Dec. 1, 2014) – A private health-care practice directed by the Lancaster County coroner was sued in federal court today on World AIDS Day by the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania on behalf of a man who was denied treatment because he is HIV-positive.
The denial, communicated in a letter to the man from Stephen G. Diamantoni, M.D., & Associates Family Practice, applies to his wife and his daughter as well. Refusing to treat a person with a disability — in this case, HIV — is illegal under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The suit is filed on behalf of “Husband, Wife and Daughter Jones,” who are using pseudonyms because federal rules require that a minor child’s identity be protected in a lawsuit.
Stephen G. Diamantoni, who has been the Lancaster County coroner since 2008, did not personally treat Jones.
In June 2013, Jones and his family moved to Lancaster County, having already contacted the Diamantoni practice to secure health care for himself and his family. The practice has five offices in Lancaster County. He was seen by the practice in June, July and August 2013, but did not have his blood drawn.
On Oct. 4, 2013, Jones’ blood was drawn for the first time during a routine visit to the practice’s Quarryville office. Four days later, he returned to the office to discuss his results and was astonished to be given a letter from William R. Vollmar, M.D., dismissing him and his family as patients.
The letter claimed that at his last visit, Jones had “left a large amount of blood all over the sink, walls and floor” of the office’s bathroom. The letter continued: “We feel since you are knowledgeable of your diagnosis that this behavior is inappropriate … this dismissal stands for all members of your family as well.”
“This outrageous story is just a false pretext for denying care to a man because of his HIV status,” said Ronda B. Goldfein, Esq., executive director of the AIDS Law Project and co-counsel on the case. “This fabrication depicts our client as a reckless person, but in fact he’s a conscientious family man who sought out health care before moving to the area. It strains credulity that he would then do something like this.”
“The law is clear: You can’t refuse to treat a person simply because he or she has a disability — in this case, HIV,” said Sarah R. Schalman-Bergen, an attorney at Berger & Montague and co-counsel in this case. “Also, these protections extend to anyone else associated with a disabled person, including their family.”
“The AIDS epidemic is now in its fourth decade — and, sadly, this kind of discrimination still happens all too frequently, even in the health-care field,” said Adrian M. Lowe, staff attorney at the AIDS Law Project and co-counsel on the case.
Among other things, the suit seeks that the Diamantoni practice develop an anti-discrimination policy and conduct training for all staff regarding HIV disease, transmission and universal precautions. It seeks awards for compensatory and punitive damages, costs and attorneys’ fees.
The “Jones” family is represented by Ronda B. Goldfein and Adrian M. Lowe of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania and Sarah R. Schalman-Bergen of Berger & Montague.
The complaint, titled Husband Jones and Wife Jones, on behalf of themselves and as Parents and Natural Guardians on behalf of Daughter Jones v. Stephen G. Diamantoni, M.D. & Associates Family Practice, Dr. Jeffrey T. Trost, and Dr. William R. Vollmar is filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. A copy of the complaint may be found here.
Honors at Black-Tie GayBINGO
Ronda B. Goldfein, executive director of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, was honored by the Philadelphia AIDS Fund as Favorite Straight Person of the Year at Black-Tie GayBINGO on Saturday, April 5.
Jaci DuBoise Adams would have loved the way her memorial service began.
At the first mention of her name, the crowd rose in a spontaneous, joyful and prolonged standing ovation.
More than 300 people filled the sanctuary of St. Luke and the Epiphany in Philadelphia on Friday, March 21 to say farewell to Jaci, a transgender and HIV activist who died at age 56 on February 15 after a struggle with cancer. They listened as she was described as mother, sister, friend, mentor, and protector. And yes, often loud and in your face. Continue reading here.
Jaci Adams, who overcame childhood abuse and drug addiction to become an inspiring leader in Philadelphia’s LGBT community, died on Saturday, February 15, at Keystone House, a hospice in Wyndmoor, PA, after a struggle with cancer. Continue reading here.
AIDS Law Project volunteer awarded fellowship
We congratulate Mr. Adrian Lowe on his award of a Conwell Community Corps fellowship in December 2012. The fellowship program, run by Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, funds paid, full-time, temporary positions for lawyers at Philadelphia-area public interest law firms. Adrian graduated Temple Law in 2012 and passed the bar in Pennsylvania. He will continue to assist on discrimination & HIV criminalization cases, and on policy work through April.
AIDS Law Project contributes to ABA Benchbook
Hot off the presses, the American Bar Association (ABA) has published a book for judges with contributions by AIDS Law Project staff and interns. The “HIV & AIDS Benchbook, 2nd Edition” is a guide for judges hearing cases in the specialized area of HIV law.
For a closer look or to purchase a copy, go to the ABA’s Web Store, available via http://bit.ly/UyGo36.
Update: Former AIDS Law Project intern Kate Reilly is now in Swaziland, Africa, where she is serving as an HIV/AIDS Educator for the Peace Corps until August 2014. She will write occasionally at her blog, Crossroads, available at http://kateinswaziland.blogspot.com.
Congratulations to our 2011-12 Drexel University Earle Mack School of Law interns who graduated on May 17, 2012: Francesca Fiamingo, Alexander Holmquist, Matt Mossman and Irena Shiloh. Matt in particular was singled out in Dean Roger Dennis’ commencement remarks for work here assisting attorneys who won a $22,000 employment-discrimination settlement for an HIV-positive nursing assistant. We wish them all best wishes as they begin studying for bar examinations.
Congratulations to Juan Baez and Kate Reilly for passing the New York Bar in May 2012! Juan is our current Drexel University Public Service Fellow and Kate was a summer associate in 2010 who graduated from Rutgers Law-Camden.
Best wishes to them both!
PA Appellate Court Rules in Favor of AIDS Law Project Client
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: http://www.mcall.com/news/local/mc-northampton-hiv-canal-side-appeal-20111024,0,1020972.story
And in the Pennsylvania Law Weekly here: https://www.aidslawpa.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/ Legal-Inteliigencer-article.pdf
The opinion can be read here: http://www.courts.state.pa.us/OpPosting/Cwealth/out/2459CD10_10-20-11.pdf
Law review article on AIDS Law Project now online
An article on the pioneering work of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania that recently was published in the Temple Law Review is now on the Web. It was written by Executive Director Ronda B. Goldfein, Esq., and Sarah R. Schalman-Bergen, Esq., of counsel, and entitled “From the Streets of Philadelphia: The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania’s How-to Primer on Mitigating Health Disparities.” The article is available as a PDF here.
AIDS LAW PROJECT EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AND A FORMER BOARD PRESIDENT ARE NAMED TO NATIONAL “TOP 100” LIST OF HIV/AIDS ADVOCATES
AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania Executive Director Ronda B. Goldfein, Esq., and former AIDS Law Project board president David Acosta were both named to the 2010 list of the POZ 100, recognizing the top HIV/AIDS activists in the country. POZ is a magazine and website for people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. The POZ 100 noted that Goldfein “battles for HIV-positive people by fighting against stigma, discrimination and ignorance.” Acosta, prevention coordinator in the City of Philadelphia’s Health Department and a writer/activist for health care reform, “uses art and conversation to address cultural social change and undo the ties – and tongues – that bind,” the listing said. Acosta served on our board in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The AIDS Law Project congratulates Goldfein and Acosta, and joins POZ in celebrating their achievements in their respective fields. The POZ 100 and an accompanying story are available on the Web at: http://www.poz.com/articles/POZ_100_HIV_2546_19399.shtml.
AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania Wins Case for Client Who Was Wrongfully Thrown Out of Personal Care Home Because She Has HIV.
Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission orders more than $63,000 in compensatory damages and civil penalties to woman illegally denied a place to live because she has HIV.
Financial Services Company Ordered to Pay Retirement Money to Longtime Partner Instead of Ex-Wife
The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania announces a victory in a case involving TIAA-CREF, a financial services company, which had awarded a deceased gay man’s retirement benefits to his ex-wife rather than his longtime partner who was named as his beneficiary. On May 27, 2010, in connection with that victory, the parties agreed to settle the surviving partner’s claims against TIAA-CREF in consideration for payment of an undisclosed amount in attorneys’ fees. This January, U.S. District Judge Stewart R. Dalzell ruled in favor of Mr. Thomas Bernardo, Dr. John L. Turner’s life partner of more than 27 years. Dr. Turner, who died in March 2008, was one of the first physicians—to come forward to treat HIV in the earliest years of the epidemic. Judge Dalzell decided that Mr. Bernardo was the lawful beneficiary of all Dr. Turner’s annuity contracts, and that was therefore entitled to the full amount of money in dispute. For more information, read our press release or Judge Dalzell’s opinion.