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HIV/AIDS Research

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Nearly 20 percent of work discrimination charges filed in the 1990s by people with HIV disease had merit

People infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are considered to be especially vulnerable to workplace discrimination because of the stigma associated with their disease, unfounded fears about HIV transmission, and the association of HIV infection with homosexuality and injection drug use. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), enacted by Congress in 1990, provides people living with HIV disease with legal means of redress against discrimination.

David M. Studdert, Sc.D., of the Harvard School of Public Health, measured for the first time the extent to which people with HIV disease actually make use of the protections available to them under the ADA. He found that of the 3,520 HIV discrimination charges filed through 1999, 18 percent had merit, and 14 percent resulted in monetary compensation.

In a recent study, which was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (K02 HS11285), Dr. Studdert analyzed all charges under the ADA filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission between 1992 and 1999 alleging HIV discrimination in the workplace. He examined respondent employers, issues in dispute, and outcomes of charges. He then compared the characteristics of workers who brought charges with a nationally representative sample of workers with HIV disease (from the HIV Cost and Services Utilization Study).

HIV-infected workers who were female, less than 25 years of age, and aged 25-34 years filed disproportionately fewer charges than other workers with HIV disease. Either there is less actual or perceived discrimination among these workers, or they have less inclination to seek relief when discrimination occurs.

Employers in the retail industry, especially in food stores, were the most frequent target of charges. Seven States accounted for 55 percent of all charges, and three States accounted for one-third. Nearly 60 percent of all charges alleged discriminatory discharge from employment, 19 percent alleged discrimination in terms or conditions of employment, 13 percent alleged harassment, and 11 percent alleged failure to provide a reasonable accommodation such as reduced hours or a less demanding job.

More details are in "Charges of human immunodeficiency virus discrimination in the workplace: The Americans with Disabilities Act in action," by Dr. Studdert, in the American Journal of Epidemiology 156(3), pp. 219-229, 2002.

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