Somewhere in Philadelphia, a boy wanted to go to school. He came from a broken home, a challenging background. He was, however, determined. He worked hard in school, earning his place on the honor roll. He applied to the Milton Hershey School, which provides food, housing and a top-notch education to children with special needs. The Milton Hershey School turned this exceptional child down. Was it his grades? No. According to the school, the boy was denied admission because he is HIV positive.
The AIDs Law Project found out, got behind the young man and his story, and sued. Today, the Milton Hershey School is about to pay out a settlement totaling nearly $750,000. In addition, the school has issued a public apology and has offered to reconsider the potential student’s application. The case appears to have been a clear cut case of illegal discrimination.
A Painful Denial
Nine words cost the Milton Hershey School the case: “direct threat to the health and safety of others.” The school claimed that because the young man is HIV positive, he should not be allowed to live, eat and be educated with other students at Milton Hershey. Little is known about the school’s defense other than those nine words. If based solely on that, what does the school have to go on? According to the Aids Healthcare Foundation, the legal precedent for such an act was laid nearly thirty years ago, when a young man named Ryan White was expelled for being HIV positive. Now, in the 2010s, we celebrate the potential for finding a very real cure for HIV. The disease is far more manageable than it was in the days of Ryan White. In today’s reality, why would a young man with HIV pose a “direct threat to the health and safety of others?”
A History of Understanding
It has been nearly three decades since HIV first became a terrifying disease. The public’s perception of individuals was changed vastly a full two decades ago when NBA legend Magic Johnson announced he had contracted HIV. The disease was associated with homosexuality and, by definition in the mid-1980s, with homophobia. Once Magic made the announcement, it was widely accepted that HIV-positive individuals were all normal human beings tragically dealing with a potentially lethal disease. That should have been the Milton Hershey School’s point of view in 2012. However, this very real and very modern case illustrates the fact that ignorance and discrimination are alive and well in the United States and our school system.
Does Lack of State Level Prohibition Allow Discrimination in Texas?
Texas civil rights and discrimination attorneys point out areas in the law where Texas civil rights and discrimination protection falls through the cracks. Discrimination may have different motivations such as race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation and disability. Texans are not all protected equally when it comes to civil rights violations and protection from discrimination. Examples include:
Most people agree that public accommodations should be free from policies that discriminate. Texas has no statewide law prohibiting such discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, sexual orientation, or physical handicap. Some local governments have passed ordinances prohibiting discrimination in public places. This has resulted in confusion as to what is legal from one municipality to the next. Texas civil rights and discrimination attorneys claim this highlights the need for statewide legislation.
Discrimination in the Workplace
According to state law in Texas, civil rights in the workplace exist in many areas including employees’ race, age, gender, religion, national origin or disability. However, Texas civil rights and discrimination state law does not extent to sexual orientation. Texas civil rights and discrimination attorneys maintain that policies that favor non-discrimination are good business.
Discrimination in Education
According to Texas civil rights and discrimination laws there are no specific prohibitions stopping a public educational institution from discriminating on account of race, ethnicity, color, gender, disability, sexual orientation, disability, religion or national origin of the student or the parent of the student. There are laws in place prohibiting student on student harassment covered under bullying codes. However, there are no similar laws covering discrimination and harassment originating from employees of the educational institution.
Discrimination from Insurance Companies
Insurance companies are prohibited from discrimination because of race, ethnicity, color, gender, disability, marital status, disability, religion, geographic location or national origin. However, Texas civil rights and discrimination laws make no provision for the prohibition based on sexual orientation and sexual identity. This discrimination can take form of higher rates, refusal to insure, limited coverage, extent of coverage and nature of coverage.
Since in Texas, civil rights and discrimination protection does no extent to sexual orientation and transgender people when it comes to insurance coverage, many insurance companies deny coverage for procedures related to transgender and sexual orientation issues. Many are refused coverage for procedures because of their transgender and sexual orientation status and are required to put off the procedure or pay for it out of pocket when it should have covered by the insurance premium to begin with.