Nikko Briteramos

A barbershop in Los Angeles must pay $75,000, plus court costs and legal fees, to a man denied service because he is HIV-positive.

Nikko Briteramos had often had his hair cut at the Kings of Kuts barbershop in the Leimert Park neighborhood, but in October 2017, after a barber had informed the shop’s owner, Ramsy Milton, that Briteramos had HIV, Milton refused to cut Briteramos’s hair or allow any of his staff to do it, according to Lambda Legal. Briteramos, represented by Lambda, filed suit against Kings of Kuts and Milton last year in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleging that the shop had violated the Americans With Disabilities Act and California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act by discriminating against him.

The court entered a judgment Tuesday granting Briteramos $75,000 in actual and punitive damages, plus attorneys’ fees amounting to $4,600 and court costs of $574.60. Milton, the sole owner of Kings of Kuts, had failed to respond to the suit, Judge André Birotte Jr. noted in the order.

“This judgment is proof that what happened to me in that barbershop and what happens to people living with HIV who experience discrimination just trying to do basic things in life like go the dentist or get a haircut is simply not acceptable,” Briteramos said in a Lambda Legal press release.

His experience led Lambda and the Black AIDS Institute to launch a public education campaign called Cut the Stigma, aimed at dispelling misconceptions about how HIV is transmitted and reduce the stigma and discrimination that people with the virus are subjected to.

The site where Briteramos suffered discrimination is significant, the organizations pointed out, as barbershops are important community gathering spaces for African-Americans. “It was the last place from which he expected to be cast out and ostracized as ‘the Other,’” the lawsuit notes.

“This ruling is a terrific affirmation for our client, and it is a clear and forceful rebuke of intentional discrimination against people living with HIV,” Anthony Pinggera, the Lambda Legal law fellow leading the case, said in the press release. “This is the end of Nikko’s case, but our work to raise necessary awareness in Black communities around the country to the ongoing issues surrounding HIV discrimination continues through our partnership with the Black AIDS Institute on the Cut the Stigma campaign.”

“Nikko’s experience highlights how Black people living with HIV are confronted with discrimination every day, but this judgment puts businesses on notice that discrimination will not be tolerated,” added Black AIDS Institute CEO Raniyah Copeland. “Freedom for Black people means that ALL Black people deserve to live without fear of discrimination.”