Gilead Sciences Inc. has been accused of revealing private information about people taking its medications to prevent HIV, in a lawsuit filed in a California federal court.
The drugmaker allegedly sent letters to patients enrolled in a medication affordability program that showed “HIV Prevention Team” as the return address, two unnamed users of the company’s medication said in the lawsuit filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Family, friends, roommates, landlords, neighbors, mail carriers, and “complete strangers” could see the mailing, the plaintiffs alleged.
Foster City, Calif.-based Gilead’s disclosure exposed users of its medication to the stigma associated with HIV and violated state laws on patient privacy and false advertising, the plaintiffs alleged, because the company promised to protect confidential information of those enrolled in its affordability program. The suit could turn into a class action.
“People living with HIV, people at risk for HIV, and people taking medications to prevent HIV acquisition face extreme stigma,” the plaintiffs said in their suit. “In fact, stigma is widely recognized as a driver of the HIV epidemic.”
Gilead said the envelope at the center of the suit is no longer used. It was usually for communications with healthcare professionals and was inadvertently sent to consumers, the company said.
“We recognize the concern expressed by some people who received this envelope from Gilead as part of a limited educational awareness campaign,” the company said in a statement. “We regret that the envelope caused any concerns, and we apologize to anyone affected.”
Other health care companies have also been sued for disclosing HIV-related information in the mail. Health insurer Aetna Inc. settled for $17 million a class action over a 2017 mailing to about 12,000 people that inadvertently revealed HIV status in the envelope’s window. CVS Health Corp. settled a similar suit for $4.4 million.
Cause of Action: Violations of the California Confidentiality Of Medical Information Act and California Unfair Competition Law; negligence, breach of contract, invasion of privacy, unjust enrichment
Relief: Declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, damages, attorneys’ fees
Response: Gilead denied the assertions in the complaint and plans to file a response.
Attorneys: The users of HIV-prevention medication are represented by Berger Montague, AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania and Langer, Grogan, & Diver P.C.
The case is Alabama Doe et al v. Gilead Sciences Inc., N.D. Cal., No. 3:20-cv-03473, 5/21/20.