DOJ Rules New State Law Violates ADA

( – On October 24, the Transgender Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal complaint in the Western District of Tennessee seeking declaratory and injunctive relief regarding Tennessee’s Aggravated Prostitution law, Tenn. Code Ann. §39-13-516. The pleading argues the statute is “rooted in fear and discrimination,” targets and criminalizes people infected with HIV, and violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Justice Department recently weighed in on the law, finding it does violate the ADA.

On December 1, the Justice Department issued a press release announcing its finding that the efforts of Tennessee officials and agencies to enforce the state’s aggravated prostitution statute violated the ADA. The statement named the Shelby County District Attorney (SCDA), the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), and the State of Tennessee.

The notice explained that the DOJ recently concluded a “comprehensive investigation” of Tennessee’s aggravated prostitution law. Investigators determined that state officials and the SCDAO subjected individuals infected with HIV to harsher criminal penalties than others not afflicted with the disease based solely on the existence of that medical condition — a violation of Title II of the ADA.

Rebecca B. Bond, the head of the DOJ’s Disability Rights Section, sent an 11-page letter via email and first-class mail providing notice of the department’s finding to the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office, the TBI director, and Shelby County District Attorney Steven J. Mulroy.

That correspondence directed the SCDA’s office to “promptly implement” four minimal “remedial measures in light of the DOJ’s finding.

  1. Immediately cease enforcement of §39-13-516 and suspend the sentences of any convicted of aggravated prostitution under that statute.
  2. Revise existing policies or create new ones to “explicitly state” that the SCDA would not discriminate against individuals with HIV by “subjecting them” to enhanced criminal charges or penalties based on “HIV status.”
  3. Take the necessary steps to reverse potential and ongoing consequences resulting from the prosecution of individuals with HIV under §39-13-516.
  4. Provide training and education to the office’s prosecutors about the ADA’s nondiscrimination requirement and HIV.

The DOJ’s letter submitted similar demands to the State of Tennessee. It also directed the TBI to expunge all state records reflecting convictions under the state’s aggravated prostitution law and removed convicted person’s entry from the state’s sexual offender registry. The notice also asked the Tennessee Governor’s Office to submit a request to the State Assembly requesting §39-13-516’s repeal.

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