Foster Parents, Pennsylvania County Youth Services Agency Settle Lawsuit Alleging Discrimination in HIV-Positive Foster Child Policy
A Centre County, Pa., agency that prevented a couple with an adopted HIV-positive son from caring for HIV-negative children has settled a discrimination lawsuit brought by the couple and agreed to change its policy, the Associated Press reports. U.S. Middle District Senior Judge James McClure, who in 1999 ruled that the Children and Youth Services agency's foster-parent policy was legal under the Americans with Disabilities Act, approved the $100,000 settlement yesterday (Associated Press, 1/18). The plaintiffs, known as John and Mary Doe, filed a discrimination lawsuit against the county in 1998 when their foster-parent application was denied on the grounds that their then 11-year-old adopted son was born with HIV. Shortly after receiving the application, county officials devised a policy that prohibited the Does from caring for HIV-negative foster children unless they released information about their son's health and the biological parents of the foster children signed a waiver releasing the county from liability. The Does contended that the policy violated the ADA, but county officials cited the "direct threat exception" to liability under the disabilities law and won the case before McClure in 1999. However, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in March 2001 reversed the decision, ruling that the ADA requires cases be reviewed individually for the "significance of the threat posed" and granting the parents the right to sue the county for discrimination before a jury (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/6/01). McClure specified that $55,000 of the settlement be placed into a special needs fund for Mary Doe, $15,000 go directly to the couple and $30,000 go toward attorney fees. In addition, the county is required to publish a new policy "saying it won't discriminate against applicants"; train employees about HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases; train prospective foster parents about HIV/AIDS prevention; and allow the Does to complete the application process. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund filed briefs supporting the Does (Associated Press, 1/18).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.