On July 12, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Octapharma Plasma, Inc., and other plasma donation centers are public accommodations subject to the non-discrimination requirements of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The decision, the first on this issue by a federal appellate court, rejected the multi-billion dollar plasma industry’s position that its members may freely discriminate against people with disabilities.
Plasma donation centers draw blood from donors – who typically receive between $25 and $50 per blood donation – then sell plasma to pharmaceutical companies for far greater sums. The plaintiff in this case, Brent Levorsen, uses payments for donating plasma as a significant portion of his limited income. When he disclosed to Octapharma’s Salt Lake City facility that he has a psychiatric disability, Octapharma refused to serve him, stating that he might rip a needle out of his arm. It maintained this position even after Levorsen’s doctors attested in writing that his condition was successfully controlled with medication and that Octapharma’s fears were unfounded.
With the assistance of the Disability Law Center in Salt Lake City, Levorsen sued under the ADA. After the trial court found against him, Levorsen retained Relman, Dane & Colfax to litigate the appeal. Ryan Downer of the Firm argued the case (with assistance from Sasha Samberg-Champion and Michael Allen on the briefs), and the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court, finding that donation centers are clearly “service establishments” within the plain meaning the ADA and that Title III of the ADA must be construed broadly in light of Congress’s intent to ensure that individuals with disabilities have “access to the same establishments available to those without disabilities.” Reflecting on the broad importance of the decision, Aaron Kinikini of the Disability Law Center, who co-counseled the case with the Firm, said: "When an industry depends on humans as the source of the raw materials which it transforms into billions of dollars in profits, it should be required to comply with the civil rights laws intended to protect those humans. This decision goes a long way to ensure that the ADA's protections reach as many people, in as many places, as Congress intended."