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JUSTICE DEPARTMENT OBTAINS FIRST DECISION UNDER THE ADA COURT RULES AGAINST DENTIST WHO REFUSED TO TREAT PATIENTS WITH AIDS WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In the first decision in a suit brought by the Justice Department under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal court in New Orleans has ruled that a Louisiana dentist who refused to treat patients with AIDS violated the law. The decision by the U.S. District Court in New Orleans prohibits the dentist, Dr. Drew Morvant, from discriminating against persons with AIDS by refusing to treat them or referring them to other dentists. The court will determine damages at a later date. "This landmark decision underscores that the law does not tolerate such egregious discrimination against persons with AIDS," said Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Deval L. Patrick. "Such discrimination is based on unfounded fear, ignorance, and prejudice, and is the type of discrimination the ADA seeks to combat." The Justice Department alleged in an October 1993 lawsuit that Morvant denied dental services to two men, both of whom were informed that the office does not treat HIV-positive patients. In January 1994, the same court held that even though Ismael Pena, one of the HIV-positive men, died prior to the suit, his estate could still receive compensatory damages. It also found that the dentist may be held personally liable for his actions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ("CDC") and the American Dental Association have issued policy guidelines that state that there is no medical justification for excluding persons from dental care solely on the basis of their HIV-positive or AIDS status. Both organizations recommend the use of "Universal Precautions," to prevent the transmission of bloodborne diseases, including HIV, in the health care setting. Occupational Health and Safety Administration regulations require dental facilities to use Universal Precautions in all dental facilities for all patients, regardless of known HIV or AIDS status. In September, a Houston dental company that was sued on the same day as Morvant for refusing to treat a patient with AIDS, agreed to pay $100,000 in damages and penalties. In an out-of-court settlement reached in January, a Connecticut dental office agreed to pay $29,000 in damages and penalties for allegedly engaging in similar acts. Also today, the Justice Department asked permission of a federal court in Bangor, Maine, to intervene in a similar case against a dentist who also allegedly refused to treat patients with AIDS. # # # 94-159