A Pennsylvania woman going by the name Jane Doe has sued her local pharmacy for exposing her HIV status to her neighbors.
In November 2018, Doe says in court documents, SunRay Drugs called her to let her know the medications she uses for gender transition and HIV treatment were about to be delivered to her home. On previous occasions, SunRay had used a brown paper bag that did not identify the contents of the package or where they were from. So Doe gave the SunRay representative permission to leave her medications in her building’s communal mailroom.
When she got home, however, Doe says the packages were in a white SunRay Drugs bag stamped with her name — in bold, and all caps — and the names of her medications.
Since then, Doe says she’s been shunned by her neighbors. Once, she says, she overheard several of them gossiping about “the drag queen with AIDS” in the shared laundry room. When she came in, the conversation abruptly stopped.
Doe stopped attending the building’s holiday events and does her laundry late at night so she won’t interact with her neighbors. She doesn't use the swimming pool anymore, and does her grocery shopping at a store farther away. She no longer feels safe or comfortable in her home, but she can’t afford to move.
A SunRay representative told Doe’s lawyers from the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania that “steps had been taken to assure the medication packages would be delivered in a manner that did not expose the contents.”
But redacted photos included with the suit show a bag covered with stickers clearly displaying Doe’s name and the name of her medications, as well as the name of her doctor.
In Pennsylvania, it’s unlawful for health-care or social service providers to reveal someone’s HIV status without their written consent. And the state’s Pharmacy Act and pharmacy board regulations require a patient’s pharmaceutical information to be kept private.
Doe is asking for SunRay to declare that it violated those laws. She’s also suing for compensation for the emotional distress she faced as a result of the incident.
Many people with HIV still face stigma and discrimination as a result of their diagnosis. This can make it more difficult for them to seek treatment or maintain interpersonal relationships out of fear of rejection or abuse. Studies have shown strong links between HIV-related stigma and higher rates of depression and lower social support.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, talking about HIV in fact-based terms and demonstrating supportive behavior can help end stigma.