Compass Career College in Hammond must pay $30,000 to a nursing student who claimed he was denied admission because of his HIV status, according to an agreement reached Monday with the U.S. Department of Justice.
But an attorney for the college said the school did nothing wrong and chose to settle because it was cheaper than defending a lawsuit.
The Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits public accommodations, such as private vocational and technical colleges, from discriminating against people with disabilities, including those with HIV.
Compass conditionally accepted the student, whom the DOJ did not name, into the college’s licensed practical nursing program in January 2012, but sent a follow-up letter after the student disclosed his HIV-positive status.
The Justice Department contends, in a statement issued Monday, that the college’s letter was meant to discourage the student from finalizing enrollment. When the student pressed forward, the college said the class was full and did not admit him.
But Compass’ attorney, Glen Galbraith, said the college’s letter was merely to inform the student of certain state regulations requiring an HIV-positive practical nurse applicant to disclose that health status to the Louisiana State Board of Practical Nurse Examiners. The state regulations establish a process for notifying the board, as well as patients of exposure-prone invasive procedures, of a practical nurse’s HIV- or Hepatitis B-positive status and for preventing transmission of the viruses.
“The college thought it was only fair that he know the state requirements,” Galbraith said. “They didn’t want him to feel tricked by the college.”
The student was granted conditional admission because his application paperwork was incomplete, not because of his HIV status, Galbraith said. The student then missed an appointment with an admissions counselor, and the class filled before he contacted the school again.
Galbraith said Compass’ requirements regarding an applicant’s HIV status did not go beyond what is required by the state board.
But the Justice Department said the college had no right to ask about the student’s health status.
According to the terms of the settlement agreement, the college may inform all students — not just those who are HIV-positive — of any state board reporting requirements, but the school cannot require students to prove they have contacted the board. By law, those communications are kept confidential.
Nor can the college impose any additional burdens on HIV-positive students. “This includes, but is not limited to, warning applicants of ‘hardships’ that the college believed that having HIV might cause in earning a degree, earning a degree in a timely and affordable manner, and in becoming employed following graduation,” the agreement states.
The agreement also prohibits Compass from requiring its students to be in “good health” and “free from communicable disease” and requires the college to rewrite its application materials to omit certain health-related questions, such as those regarding an applicant’s “last menstrual period” or “undescended or absent testicle.”
The school must provide training on the Americans With Disabilities Act to administrators and instructors and must regularly report to the Justice Department over the next four years.
The agreement, which includes a $5,000 civil penalty to be paid to the Justice Department, must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, where the complaint was filed.
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