Suit says pharmacy violated HIV-positive trans woman’s privacy

A West Philadelphia pharmacy allegedly violated a trans woman’s HIV-privacy rights when delivering drugs to the mailroom of an apartment building she resides in, according to a lawsuit filed this week.

The 16-page lawsuit was filed on behalf of “Jane Doe” on Nov. 25 in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court.  As of presstime, it hadn’t been assigned to a judge. A jury trial hasn’t been requested.

A manager of the store, who identified himself as “Randy,” told PGN he would have no comment regarding the litigation.

On previous occasions, the woman’s prescription medicines from SunRay Drugs on West Baltimore Avenue had been wrapped in unmarked brown paper bags. But on Nov. 27, 2018, a white SunRay Drugs bag that clearly identified Doe and the medications she takes to treat HIV and her gender transition was left in the mail area of the building for other tenants to see. 

“Horrified that her privacy was violated and her prescription information was visible to other tenants, Jane Doe immediately contacted SunRay to complain. She terminated service with SunRay and switched all her prescriptions to a new service,” according to the lawsuit.

The following day she contacted the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, which sent a cease and desist letter to SunRay, demanding that the store stop impermissibly disclosing patient names and medications, according to the lawsuit.

Prior to the disclosure, Doe lived happily in the building for five years. But after the alleged privacy breach, Doe’s HIV status and gender history became a subject of gossip among other tenants. On one occasion, Doe overheard other tenants in the laundry room discussing the “drag queen with AIDS,” according to the lawsuit.

“[Doe’s] previously friendly neighbors became cold and distant, avoiding her in elevators and common areas,” according to the lawsuit.

Since the incident, Doe no longer socializes in common areas of her apartment complex. She enters the building from the garage and goes directly to her apartment. She has stopped attending the building’s holiday parties, she uses the laundry room late at night and she shops at a grocery store further from home, according to the lawsuit.

“[Doe] hopes to move but as yet does not have the money to cover relocation expenses,” the suit states.

The suit accuses the pharmacy of negligence and violating Doe’s privacy, which is covered by the state’s HIV Privacy Act and the standard legal safeguards for health information. Doe is seeking damages in excess of $50,000, along with reasonable attorneys’ fees.

Doe is represented by Ronda B. Goldfein and Adrian M. Lowe of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania and John J. Grogan of the law firm Langer, Grogan & Diver, who’s associated with the law project.

In a related filing, Doe seeks the court’s permission to pursue her claim under a pseudonym. Lowe said some people simply would not pursue a claim if their identities were revealed in a lawsuit. “Sadly, stigma, discrimination, and their devastating consequences still exist,” he said. “For some people, the desire to protect their privacy can outweigh their desire for justice.”

Lowe added: “HIV confidentiality is so important. Once somebody has lost control over their private information, you can’t put it back in the box, and the consequences can be profound for people.”