ABBOTT V. BRAGDON: High Ct. Turns Away HIV+ ADA Appeal
The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday turned away without comment an appeal brought by dentist Randon Bragdon in a case that established Americans With Disabilities Act protection for HIV-positive people, AP/Foster's Daily Democrat reports. Although the Supreme Court decided last June that HIV falls under the umbrella of the ADA, the High Court then left open the issue of whether providing routine dental care for HIV-positive patients is safe. In December, the U.S. Appeals Court ruled that the CDC's guidelines for universal precautions were sufficient to render the risk of transmitting the virus insignificant and in compliance with the American Dental Association's guidelines. As a result, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Sidney Abbott's legal victory in her discrimination case against Bragdon "should stand and that no trial was necessary." In Bragdon's second appeal to the Supreme Court, Bragdon implored the court to reverse the decision, arguing that the appeals court ruling "encourages health care workers to practice below-minimum safety standards." Bragdon's case was turned away, with Abbott's lawyers hailing the latest action as "the final chapter in a long history of litigation in which every court has taken the view that there is no basis, medical or otherwise, to refuse health services to people with AIDS" (Carelli, AP/Foster's Daily Democrat, 5/24). The Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders applauded the move, calling it "the final chapter in a long history of this case, which established that health care providers cannot refuse critical services to patients with HIV based upon unscientific beliefs about HIV transmission" (GLAD release, 5/24).
In another case, the Supreme Court yesterday unanimously voted to overturn a lower court's ruling that the Social Security Act, which provides benefits for at least one year to individuals whose disabilities prevent them from working, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which "protects disabled workers from discrimination as long as they can perform their jobs' essential functions," are contradictory. The New York Times reports that some lower courts have concluded that "because someone who has applied for or received Social Security disability benefits is by definition unfit for employment, such a person is either barred from suing for disability discrimination or faces special judicial hurdles in pursuing a disability lawsuit." Lambda Legal Defense Fund Legal Director Beatrice Dohrn said the Supreme Court's decision "could be particularly beneficial to people" with HIV since they often "move in and out of being able to work" and frequently encounter discrimination when they do work. She said the decision "broke down a barrier that people with HIV needed to get past" (Greenhouse, New York Times, 5/24).