DOJ Takes Legal Action Against Tennessee on HIV-Positive Workers

( – The Department of Justice announced on Thursday that it had filed a lawsuit against Tennessee over a decades-old law that imposes harsher penalties on HIV-positive prostitutes who knowingly place others at risk for the virus, the Associated Press reported.

The lawsuit was filed following an investigation by the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ that concluded in December that Tennessee’s aggravated prostitution law violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In a press release announcing the lawsuit, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who leads the Civil Rights Division, argued that it was wrong to subject those with HIV “to a different system of justice,” based solely on “outdated science and misguided assumptions.”

Clarke said the lawsuit was part of the Justice Department’s effort to ensure that HIV-positive Americans “are not targeted because of their disability.”

While prostitution has long been a misdemeanor in the state, in 1991, Tennessee enacted a felony aggravated prostitution law imposing harsher penalties on prostitutes who knowingly place clients at risk by exposing them to HIV. State lawmakers revised the statute about 20 years later to require prostitutes convicted under the law to be placed on a lifetime violent offender registry.

Since then, the CDC has come out against laws that criminalize HIV exposure, arguing that the laws are ineffective at stopping the spread of the virus and have a greater impact on minority communities.

In its lawsuit, the Civil Rights Division is requesting that the court order Tennessee to stop enforcement of the law, expunge the convictions of those found guilty of violating the law, and remove their names from the registry.

The office of Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti confirmed to the Associated Press that it was aware of the lawsuit and would be reviewing it.

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act considers both HIV and AIDS as disabilities. Under the law, discrimination based on disabilities, including in housing, employment, and even parking, is prohibited.

A separate lawsuit against Tennessee’s aggravated prostitution law was filed by LGBT groups last year.

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