First, Daniel S. Richardson claims, he was fired from his job and his wife was forced to quit her job at the same company. Then, he says, a Provo surgical center refused to operate on him because he has tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.
Now Richardson has filed a lawsuit accusing HealthSouth Provo Surgical Center of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by canceling surgery on his ulcerated toe. Richardson, 42, says a doctor there said it was the center's policy not to accept HIV-positive patients.
The suit, filed Aug. 26 in U.S. District Court, is seeking unspecified monetary damages and an order barring the center and its doctors from refusing to treat people who have tested positive for HIV. Also named as defendants are former center owner Gary H. Ashby and physician Michael D. Taylor.
Stephen Owens, an attorney for HealthSouth Provo, said the center is looking into Richardson's complaint. "We're taking it seriously," he said. "We can't comment yet because we just learned about it."
Richardson's Salt Lake City attorney, Marlin Criddle, says doctors have an ethical and legal obligation to treat people with HIV.
He pointed out the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 1998 case that although the ADA does not force caregivers to treat a patient who poses a direct threat to their health or safety, it also prohibits discrimination.
Health care workers can protect themselves by adhering to universal precautions, such as using protective barriers and taking care in disposing of needles and other sharp instruments, Criddle said.
"If they follow [the precautions], there should not be any problem treating someone with HIV, like any other communicable disease," the lawyer said.
Richardson says in his suit that he scheduled his non-emergency surgery for Dec. 17 and his physician sent his medical paperwork to HealthSouth Provo. He alleges that three days before surgery, a staff member at the center told him that the procedure was canceled because of his HIV status.
According to the suit, when Richardson's physician phoned, Taylor told him that no scrub techs would do the surgery and that it was a policy of HealthSouth Provo not to take patients who are HIV-positive.
Fraser Nelson, executive director of the Disability Law Center in Salt Lake City, said people who are HIV-positive are protected by law from discrimination.
Although many appear outwardly healthy and advances in medical science allow them to live normal lives, the perception of disability puts these patients under the ADA, she said.
"I haven't heard of one of these cases in a long time," Nelson said. "In the early days of the HIV epidemic, there were many such cases. My assumption was that we had overcome this irrational fear."
Richardson was diagnosed with HIV in 1999. He contends in a separate lawsuit, filed in 2000 in U.S. District Court, that he was fired from his job as a shop foreman for an asphalt company because of his condition and his wife was forced to quit after the employers threatened to make her life difficult unless he withdrew his claim for unemployment benefits.
The 2000 lawsuit was closed after the company, which denied the Richardsons' discrimination and wrongful termination allegations, filed for bankruptcy.