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Supreme Court says disability act covers HIV

graphic June 25, 1998
Web posted at: 11:01 a.m. EDT (1501 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- HIV-infected people are protected by the federal ban on discrimination against the disabled even if they suffer no symptoms of AIDS, the Supreme Court said Thursday.

The ruling went against a Maine dentist who told an HIV-infected patient that he would fill her cavity in a hospital, but not in his office. The woman, Sidney Abbott, sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal civil rights law which bars disability discrimination.

The decision was a victory not just for Abbott but for the Justice Department, which has included people with HIV under the scope of the disability law.

A person can be HIV-positive but not have AIDS itself.

In an opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court said the patient's HIV infection was a disability covered by the law, even though she had no symptoms of the disease.

The court also ruled that Abbott was disabled because she was substantially limited in the "major life activity" of reproduction because of her disease.

Correspondent Charles Bierbauer contributed to this report.

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