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AwDA initiative targets health care facilities

Washington—Dr. Monique Nguyen said she will post a non-discrimination notice and implement employee training in her Northern Virginia practice under an Americans with Disabilities Act settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Justice Department and U.S. attorneys stepped up AwDA enforcement through a Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2012/July/12-crt-931.html  targeting health facilities and posting information at the DoJ Americans with Disabilities Act website www.ada.gov.

"This new initiative will make sure that people with disabilities, especially those who are deaf or hard of hearing, have access to medical information provided to them in a manner that is understandable to them," said the DoJ July 26, 2012 announcement. "The…initiative is a multi-phase plan that will also involve other key issues for people with disabilities, including ensuring physical access to medical buildings."

The basis of complaints investigated by the Justice Department and U.S. attorneys is wide-ranging, as is the geographic scope, but most of those reported at the DoJ website allege discrimination in access to services under Title III of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in public accommodations. Alleged discrimination in programs, services and activities of state and local governments under AwDA Title II was the basis of several reported investigations.

The posted notices also include complaints and agreements involving cities and other government entities, colleges, universities and other schools, collection agencies, day care centers, health care facilities, law firms, resorts and spas, restaurants, sports arenas and tour and transportation firms.

Dr. Nguyen denies allegations of a complainant, who was not named in the Feb. 12, 2013 settlement agreement, "that Woodlawn Family Dentistry failed to treat him equally by requiring that he schedule all his future appointments for the last appointment of the day because he is a person with HIV." She reached a settlement agreement with the Justice Department to avoid more costly litigation, Dr. Nguyen told the ADA News.

"The parties agree that it is in their best interests, and the United States believes that it is in the public interest, to resolve this dispute without engaging in protracted litigation," the three-year settlement agreement said.

Under the agreement, Dr. Nguyen agreed to post a notice of non-discrimination and to conduct training for employees on Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and on HIV discrimination. Dr. Nguyen said the Justice Department offered guidance on employee training and that she drafted and submitted to the Justice Department language in accord with the agreement that she expects to post within the specified time frame.

The draft notice says that this dental practice "does not discriminate in the provision of goods, services, privileges, advantages or accommodations to persons with disabilities (and) treats all patients with disabilities including those with HIV in equal manner," Dr. Nguyen said.

"Woodlawn Family Dentistry and Dr. Nguyen specifically deny the allegations in paragraph 10(b) above and contend that the complainant was offered, but not required to accept, the last appointment of the day on his next visit as an accommodation to the complainant and in consideration of his condition," the settlement agreement said.

"Woodlawn Family Dentistry and Dr. Nguyen do not agree with the United States' findings and deny that they discriminated against the complainant in violation of the [AwDA] or any other provisions of law," the agreement said.

Under AwDA Title III, no person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation may discriminate against an individual on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations of a place of public accommodation. Dr. Nguyen is the sole practitioner and owner of Woodlawn Family Dentistry.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act as amended in 2008, an individual who has HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) has a physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, including operation of the immune system, which is a major bodily function, and accordingly has a disability within the meaning of the AwDA. The statute also prohibits discrimination against persons who are "regarded as" having a disability and discrimination based on the known disability of an individual with whom the individual or entity is known to have a relationship or association.