Lawsuit alleging HIV-privacy violation settled

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A lawsuit filed against a West Philadelphia pharmacy for allegedly violating a trans woman’s HIV-privacy rights has been settled, it was announced this week. Terms of the settlement weren’t disclosed.

On Nov. 25, a 16-page lawsuit was filed in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, alleging that Sunray Drugs on West Baltimore Avenue violated the privacy rights of “Jane Doe” when delivering drugs to the mailroom of an apartment building she resided in.

According to court records, Doe’s prescription medicines from SunRay Drugs were typically 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.

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

On one occasion, Doe overheard other tenants in the laundry room discussing the “drag queen with AIDS,” according to the lawsuit.

Doe became more withdrawn and isolated. She stopped socializing in common areas of the apartment complex, used the laundry room late at night, and stopped attending the building’s holiday parties, according to the lawsuit.

The suit accused 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.

Both sides approved this March 10 press release: 

“The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania is pleased to announce the settlement of Doe v. SunRay Drugs on behalf of ‘Jane Doe,’ a transgender woman living with HIV. The lawsuit alleged Doe, who used a pseudonym throughout the proceedings to protect her identity, became the subject of gossip in her previously-supportive community after her pharmacy left her HIV and gender transition medications in a location of her apartment building. The pharmacy alleges that it followed Doe’s instruction as to the location in which her medication should be delivered, despite the fact that it was not a secure location and in a bag that identified the contents.

“While neither living with HIV nor being transgender are anything to be ashamed of, disclosure is a personal choice that is up the individual. Stigma and discrimination are persistent and the consequences of losing control over private information can be far-reaching.

“This settlement is a reminder to providers to examine their practices with an eye to ensuring the protection of sensitive information at every step of service-provision. This case settled for an undisclosed amount [of money]. The pharmacy denies Doe’s allegations and liability. Both sides are satisfied with the settlement. ‘Jane Doe’ was represented by Ronda B. Goldfein and Adrian M. Lowe of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania and John J. Grogan of Langer, Grogan & Diver P.C.”