Published January, 2010

Doe v. Deer Mountain Day Camp, Inc., 07 Civ. 5495 (S.D.N.Y. 2010)

The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York held a children's camp liable under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for denying an HIV positive child admission solely based on his HIV status. In 2004, an HIV positive child wanted to attend a basketball camp but was denied due to his HIV status. The day camp erroneously believed that HIV could be transmitted from sharing toilet facilities or a swimming pool and therefore the child would be a threat to other campers. The child and his parents sued the hosting day camp, and associated basketball camp, under the ADA and the New York State Human Rights Law. In a successful claim for declaratory relief under the ADA one must find that (1) the plaintiff has a disability; (2) the defendants are owners or operators of a place of "public accommodation"; and (3) the defendants discriminated against the plaintiff on the basis of his disability. 

The court, relying upon Bragdon v. Abbot, 524 U.S. 624 (1998), the legislative history of the ADA, and the Department of Justice Regulations regarding the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12186(b), found that HIV qualifies as a disability. Under the ADA, an individual can not be denied the full and equal enjoyment of any place of public accommodation on the basis of that person's, or an associate's, disability. The camp, as a public accommodation, denied the child admission solely due to his HIV status and did not have any medical evidence to suggest that the child's status, nor side effects from his HIV medication, would pose a direct threat to others. The court concluded that the defendants's "direct threat defense" was not founded in any medical basis and that the camp owners easily could have accessed information on the lack of threat posed by the child's HIV. Rejecting the camp owners' reliance on the advice of a nurse who asserted that HIV could survive in a pool and be transmitted by blood on a toilet seat, the court noted that "opinions from health care workers do not constitute objective medical evidence absent [credible scientific] basis" nor does one's state of mind excuse discrimination absent objective reasoning. The court granted the plaintiff's summary judgment for declaratory relief as a result of the camp's discrimination against the child on the basis of his HIV status.