HIV-positive man settles discrimination case against Delaware County

This story has been updated to include a statement from Adrienne Marofsky, public relations director for Delaware County.

An HIV-positive Philadelphia man has settled his antibias lawsuit against Delaware County for an undisclosed amount of money. The man allegedly was denied a kitchen job at the county jail while incarcerated there and his HIV-privacy rights allegedly were violated.

“John Doe,” 28, filed suit in federal court against Delaware County and other defendants in April 2022, alleging violations of state and federal laws. But the case was officially settled March 5 after lengthy negotiations.

From February 2020 through July 2020, Doe was incarcerated at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility, a county jail that houses about 1,300 inmates. 

Doe was incarcerated at the facility due to alleged drug-related violations. Doe contended he was unlawfully denied work in the jail’s kitchen due to his HIV-positive status and his HIV-privacy rights were violated while he was incarcerated at the facility.

Doe’s lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed monetary payment and policy changes within the facility, said Ronda B. Goldfein, an attorney for Doe and executive director of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania. 

“This settlement addresses the ongoing issues at the Delaware County jail,” Goldfein told PGN. “We agreed in principle to a settlement in May of 2023. But there were still details to be worked out until the settlement could be completed.”

Goldfein said Doe has received the settlement money. 

“The settlement provided for an undisclosed amount of compensation to Mr. Doe and changes of internal policy [within the jail], strengthening the policies of the jail — and strengthening the rights of incarcerated individuals who are disabled and protecting everyone’s medical privacy,” Goldfein said.

Attorneys representing Doe didn’t seek any fees from him nor from the defendants. “We did not request attorneys fees from the defendants nor did we take fees from the client,” Goldfein said.

Delaware County officials have aligned their HIV-related antibias policies with state and federal law, Goldfein added. “They [county officials] have advised us they’ve changed their policies to be in line with federal and state [HIV-antibias] laws,” Goldfein asserted.

Adrian M. Lowe, another attorney for Doe, said he’s satisfied with the settlement. 

“Mr. Doe is satisfied with the settlement and we’re all very proud of him,” Lowe stated. “Changes to civil rights are made by people standing up and saying, ‘This isn’t right.’ That’s a painful and difficult thing to do. We hope the impact of this settlement makes clear that your right to be free of discrimination and your right to privacy regarding your healthcare information don’t change when you’re incarcerated.”

Lowe praised Doe’s perseverance. “Staying with this lawsuit and getting the results that he [Doe] did will make it better for other people moving forward,” Lowe said. “So it’s something he’s proud of.”

Goldfein noted the ongoing misunderstanding some people have regarding HIV transmission. 

“Once again, we’ve represented a person with HIV who was denied an opportunity to be a food handler,” Goldfein said. “We want to remind everyone that since 1990, there’s been an annual [federally-published] list of diseases that would prevent a person from being a food handler — and HIV has never been on the list.”

Lowe echoed Goldfein’s concerns. 

“HIV has been studied for four decades now,” Lowe said. “We understand how it’s been transmitted. It’s never been transmitted in the food supply.”

Goldfein expressed thanks for all the attorneys who represented Doe in the litigation. 

“The AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania represented Mr. Doe along with Lambda Legal and the law firm of Langer, Grogan & Diver,” Goldfein said. “They were our co-counsel. We’re always grateful to partner with other law firms.”

Mary Catherine Roper, an attorney at Langer, Grogan & Diver, worked numerous hours formulating the settlement. 

“We are proud to have been part of obtaining this result and of the changes that will protect other people in Delaware County from discrimination,” Roper said in a statement.

Adrienne Marofsky, public relations director for Delaware County, issued this statement: “John Doe, who was incarcerated at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility (“GWHCF”) from February 2020 through July 2020, brought suit against Delaware County and the GEO Group, Inc. (GEO Group) in which he alleged that while he was incarcerated, his confidential HIV status was disclosed and he was denied the opportunity to participate in a prison work program because of his HIV status.  Although GWHCF is currently operated and maintained by the County, during the time period that John Doe was incarcerated at GWHCF, the County maintained a daily functional service contract with GEO Group to manage the day-to-day operations of GWHCF.  Accordingly, the County had no involvement in any of the activities alleged by Doe and did not participate in the monetary aspects of the settlement.

“Furthermore, in April 2022, GWHCF — which was the last remaining privately managed county prison in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania — deprivatized. Since that time, Delaware County and the new warden of GWHCF, Laura Williams, have endeavored to ensure that all policies and procedures are consistent with state and federal law. Counsel for John Doe had the opportunity to review these policies in conjunction with the voluntary dismissal of the complaint.”

Prior to the settlement, the case had been tentatively scheduled for a May 2023 jury trial, with U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Leeson Jr. presiding. The U.S. Department of Justice urged defendants to negotiate a settlement, according to court records.

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