Target Refused a Flu Shot to a Man With HIV—Then the Retailer Doubled Down

A lawsuit filed this month claims a Target pharmacy refused a flu shot to a man because he is HIV-positive and accuses the retailer of disability discrimination.

Douglas Decker, a retired Target worker, was first diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1986, according to the complaint. On September 22, 2015, Decker says he went to a Target store in the Midway neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota. Decker claims he had visited the store’s pharmacy for more than a decade without incident before that day. He had gone to Target to fill a prescription when he asked about getting a flu vaccine. The pharmacy technician on duty asked Decker which type of flu vaccination he wanted. Decker claims he responded by telling the technician he was uncertain which vaccine was best for him, and then he told the technician his age and his HIV-positive status.

Decker claims that after he disclosed his HIV-positive status the technician “physically backed away and told Mr. Decker that he would need to speak to the pharmacist.” The technician then told Decker, in front of the pharmacy desk and other customers, that Target wouldn’t give him a flu shot and he would have to go to another clinic, according to the complaint. 

Shocked, Decker reached out to Target to address the denial of care. On two occasions, Decker claims he was told by Target representatives that its policy allowed employees to deny services for any reason.

The lawsuit points out that “Target is a self-proclaimed champion of diversity and inclusion,” and that the retailer “can—and must—do better.”

On August 19, 2016, Decker filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice accusing Target of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by refusing service to him on the basis of his HIV-positive diagnosis. Decker says the Justice Department began investigating Decker’s complaint but later dropped its investigation after the election of Donald Trump and appointment of Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

Decker also filed a charge of discrimination with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights that August, alleging Target was in violation of the state’s human rights act. Target initially failed to respond to this complaint. It took a warning issued by the department to get the retailer to answer Decker’s allegations. After investigating Target for more than a year, on November 6, 2017, the department found that probable cause existed to believe Target discriminated against Decker. Initial efforts by the agency to settle the dispute failed, so Decker requested the department close its investigation so he could initiate litigation against the retailer.

The lawsuit, filed in Minnesota state court, accuses the retailer of violating the Minnesota Human Rights Act’s prohibition on disability discrimination based on Decker’s status as HIV-positive.

Since the time of Target’s alleged refusal of care to Decker, Target has completed the sale of its pharmacies to CVS, a national pharmacy chain that recently made headlines when one of its pharmacists refused service to a transgender person, purportedly for religious reasons.

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