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HIV positive St. Paul Target shopper alleges flu shot discrimination

Douglas Decker says Target met his complaints by saying employees could deny service to customers "for any reason."

Douglas Decker says Target met his complaints by saying employees could deny service to customers "for any reason." Google Street

Douglas Decker says Target denied him critical care due solely to his HIV status.

Target, for its part, says what happened to Decker was a mistake made by a single employee, a misunderstanding, and not an act of discrimination. 

Sorting out who's right is now in the hands of opposing lawyers.

Prior to this experience, Decker was not only a loyal Target customer but had also worked for the Minneapolis-headquartered company, Rewire reports. Decker says he'd been shopping at the Target in St. Paul's Midway for a decade-plus before entering the store one day in fall 2015, according to complaints Decker later filed with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. 

Decker had gone in to fill prescriptions which were vitally important to his survival. He's been living with HIV since 1986. Decker then asked Target's pharmacy technician which flu shot he should receive, disclosing his HIV positive status.

Decker's question was a good one. The 2015 vaccine was predicted to be effective at preventing flu, at least more so than previous year's vaccine, and people with HIV have "high risk of serious influenza-related complications," according to the CDC. The federal agency recommends vaccinations for those living with HIV, with some precautions taken for those with a more "advanced" version.

The technician's response was a bad one, according to Decker, who claims the employee "backed away" from the counter, informing Decker he'd need to take his question up with the pharmacist. Then, according to Decker's complaints, the tech told him he couldn't receive his flu shot there after all.

Decker reported the incident to Target, and says he was told employees had the right to refuse service "for any reason," Rewire reports. This seemed insufficient, coming from a "self-proclaimed champion of inclusion and diversity," as Decker's lawsuit calls Target.

Decker says his claim with the Justice Department, which accused Target of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, was "dropped after the election of Donald Trump." Another complaint he filed with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights advanced -- which Target only got around to responding to after a warning from the state agency -- and the department found "probable cause" of discrimination against Decker.

The two sides couldn't reach an agreement mediated by the department, and instead, Decker filed suit.

In a statement addressing Decker's lawsuit, Target said it wants all its shoppers to "feel valued and respected," admitted only to a minor mistake being made in this case.

"In 2015, a Target pharmacist misunderstood Target’s guidelines," reads Target's statement, "and mistakenly directed a guest to the in-store Target Clinic for a flu shot rather than administering it at the in-store pharmacy. We’ve been in close conversations with Mr. Decker for several years, we have apologized to him directly and will continue to work toward an amicable resolution for everyone involved."