Affirmed by published opinion. Judge WILKINS wrote the opinion, in which Judge WILKINSON and Judge LUTTIG joined.
WILKINS, Circuit Judge:
John Doe, M.D. (Dr. Doe) appeals a decision of the district court granting summary judgment to University of Maryland Medical System Corporation (UMMSC)
The material facts are undisputed. When the events leading to this lawsuit began to unfold, Dr. Doe was a neurosurgical resident at UMMSC in the third year of a six-year training program. In January 1992, Dr. Doe was stuck with a needle while treating an individual who may have been infected with HIV, the virus which causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
After careful consideration and further study, senior administrators at UMMSC rejected the recommendations of the panel. Instead, UMMSC permanently suspended
HIV is a fragile virus that may be transmitted only through certain bodily fluids, including blood. One way in which HIV may be transmitted is through blood-to-blood contact with infected blood. Thus, it is possible that a patient could contract HIV from a surgeon who is HIV-positive. For example, a surgeon might sustain a cut from a sharp instrument which causes him to bleed directly into a patient's open wound during an invasive surgical procedure. Or, a surgeon might be stuck with a needle which is then used on a patient to start an intravenous line or to suture a wound.
Although estimates of the risk of surgeon-to-patient transmission vary, there is general agreement among public health officials that the risk is small. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that the risk to a single patient from an HIV-positive surgeon ranges from .0024% (1 in 42,000) to .00024% (1 in 417,000). Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., Open Meeting on the Risks of Transmission of Blood-borne Pathogens to Patients During Invasive Procedures (Feb. 21-22, 1991) (statement of Dr. David Bell, Centers for Disease Control). However, the CDC also estimated that the cumulative risk of transmission by an HIV-positive surgeon during the course of his career ranges from .8%-8.1%. Id.
In reaching its decision to terminate Dr. Doe, UMMSC considered recommendations issued by the CDC regarding HIV-positive health care workers (HCWs). See Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., Recommendations for Preventing Transmission of Human Immuno-deficiency Virus and Hepatitis B Virus to Patients During Exposure-Prone Invasive Procedures, 40 Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report 1, 3-4 (July 12, 1991) (CDC Recommendations). In light of its determination that the risk of HCW-to-patient transmission of HIV is at most a small one, the CDC recommended that HIV-positive HCWs should not be barred from performing most surgical procedures. See id. at 5. Instead, the CDC recommended strict adherence to "universal precautions" for infection control. Id. These precautions include hand-washing, wearing of protective barriers such as gloves and masks, and care in the use of needles and other sharp instruments. Id. Provided that the universal precautions are followed, the CDC concluded that "[c]urrently available data provide no basis for recommendations to restrict the practice of HCWs infected with HIV ... who perform invasive procedures." Id.
However, the CDC distinguished between the large class of invasive procedures (ranging from insertion of an intravenous line to most types of surgery) and a more limited class of "exposure-prone" procedures, i.e., those posing a greater risk of percutaneous (skin-piercing) injury to the surgeon. Although the CDC did not attempt to specifically identify exposure-prone procedures, it did provide a general definition of the term:
UMMSC also considered a study of percutaneous injuries to HCWs during surgical procedures (the Tokars study), which concluded that such injuries are common, occurring in approximately 6.9% of all surgeries. The Tokars study also found that "recontacts" — contact with a patient's tissues from an instrument that had previously injured an HCW — were common, particularly when suturing a wound.
Shortly after he was terminated, Dr. Doe filed this lawsuit claiming that UMMSC had discriminated against him in violation of § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, Title II of the ADA, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Dr. Doe also alleged retaliation in violation of the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA, breach of contract, and invasion of privacy. He requested injunctive relief, a declaratory judgment that UMMSC had violated the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA, and compensatory and punitive damages. In an interlocutory order, the district court dismissed Dr. Doe's prayers for compensatory and punitive damages under the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the ADA and also dismissed his retaliation claims. After extensive discovery, the parties moved for summary judgment.
The district court granted summary judgment to UMMSC, concluding that as a matter of law Dr. Doe was not entitled to relief under the Rehabilitation Act, the ADA, and the Equal Protection Clause. The district court also dismissed without prejudice Dr. Doe's state-law claims for breach of contract and invasion of privacy and denied his motion to amend his complaint.
Dr. Doe primarily argues that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to UMMSC on his claims under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the ADA. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C.A. § 794,
The parties do not dispute that infection with HIV is a disability; that were Dr. Doe not HIV-positive, he would be qualified to continue his employment as a neurosurgical resident at UMMSC; and that Dr. Doe's residency was terminated because he is HIV-positive. However, UMMSC maintains that its decision to terminate Dr. Doe was not discriminatory because he poses a significant risk to the health or safety of its patients that cannot be eliminated by reasonable accommodation and therefore is not an otherwise qualified individual with a disability.
The Supreme Court addressed the question of when an individual with a contagious disease is otherwise qualified in School Board of Nassau County v. Arline, 480 U.S. 273, 107 S.Ct. 1123, 94 L.Ed.2d 307 (1987). The Arline Court stated that an individual with an infectious disease is not otherwise qualified under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act if he "poses a significant risk of communicating an infectious disease to others ... [and] reasonable accommodation will not eliminate that risk." Arline, 480 U.S. at 287 n. 16, 107 S.Ct. at 1131 n. 16.
Id. at 288, 107 S.Ct. at 1131 (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, in the words of the district court below, the Arline factors "discount the severity of anticipated harms by the statistical probability that they will occur." Doe v. University of Md. Medical Sys. Corp., C/A No. 92-2832 (D.Md. Mar. 31, 1994) (order granting summary judgment). Because the only issue before us with respect to Dr. Doe's claims under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA is whether the undisputed facts establish the existence of a significant risk that cannot be eliminated by reasonable accommodation, our review is de novo. See Higgins v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 863 F.2d 1162, 1167 (4th Cir. 1988).
UMMSC argues that Dr. Doe poses a significant risk because (1) HIV may be transmitted via blood-to-blood contact in a surgical setting; (2) Dr. Doe will always be infectious; (3) infection with HIV is invariably fatal; and (4) there is an ascertainable risk that Dr. Doe will transmit the disease during the course of his neurosurgical residency. Moreover, UMMSC asserts, the risk of injury from needles and other sharp instruments cannot be eliminated through reasonable accommodation; therefore, neither can the risk of infection. In short, UMMSC contends that the catastrophic effects of infection with HIV combined with a minimal but nevertheless ascertainable risk of transmission form a sufficient basis upon which to conclude that Dr. Doe is not otherwise qualified for a residency in neurosurgery.
Dr. Doe does not dispute that the first three Arline factors weigh in favor of a finding that he poses a significant risk. And, Dr. Doe cannot seriously claim that he will never suffer a needle stick or scalpel cut that might
Dr. Doe is correct that Arline urges us to defer to the reasonable medical judgment of public health officials. The CDC is such a public health official, and its reasonable medical judgment as contained in the CDC Recommendations is the only judgment of a public health official that was presented to the district court. However, we must consider the CDC's suggestion that HIV-positive surgeons should be allowed to practice invasive procedures in light of its further recommendation that hospitals may bar HIV-positive surgeons from performing those procedures identified by the hospital as exposure prone. After careful consideration of the CDC Recommendations and other sources of information, UMMSC concluded that all neurosurgical procedures that would be performed by Dr. Doe fit the definition of exposure-prone procedures, and restricted his practice accordingly. We are reluctant under these circumstances to substitute our judgment for that of UMMSC. The types of procedures in which Dr. Doe is engaged as a neurosurgical resident are not so clearly outside the characteristics of exposure-prone procedures identified by the CDC that we can conclude that deference to public health officials requires us to decide that Dr. Doe does not pose a significant risk.
We hold that Dr. Doe does pose a significant risk to the health and safety of his patients that cannot be eliminated by reasonable accommodation. Although there may presently be no documented case of surgeon-to-patient transmission, such transmission clearly is possible. And, the risk of percutaneous injury can never be eliminated through reasonable accommodation. Cf. Bradley v. University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Ctr., 3 F.3d 922, 925 (5th Cir.1993) (per curiam) (noting impossibility of eliminating risk of percutaneous injury to surgical technician through reasonable accommodation because to do so would eliminate essential functions of employment), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 114 S.Ct. 1071, 127 L.Ed.2d 389 (1994). Thus, even if Dr. Doe takes extra precautions (such as wearing two pairs of gloves, making stitches with only one hand, and using blunttipped, solid-bore needles) some measure of risk will always exist because of the type of activities in which Dr. Doe is engaged. We therefore conclude that Dr. Doe is not an otherwise qualified individual with a disability under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA. See id. at 924.
The record before us demonstrates that UMMSC's decision to terminate Dr. Doe was thoroughly deliberated. UMMSC carefully reviewed the recommendations of the panel on blood-borne pathogens, which in turn considered all then-current knowledge of the transmissibility of HIV in the health-care setting. In spite of the low risk of transmission, UMMSC made a considered decision to err on the side of caution in protecting its patients. And, there is nothing in the record to indicate that UMMSC acted with anything other than the best interests of its patients and Dr. Doe at heart.
Dr. Doe also claims that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to UMMSC on his equal protection claim. Dr. Doe asserts that he is a member of the class of HIV-positive HCWs at UMMSC; that only those HIV-positive HCWs whose status is known to UMMSC are restricted from performing invasive procedures; and that the differential treatment of HIV-positive HCWs based on whether the infection is known or unknown is violative of the Equal Protection Clause.
Classifications involving individuals with disabilities are subject only to rational basis scrutiny. See Contractors Ass'n of E. Pa., Inc. v. Philadelphia, 6 F.3d 990, 1001 (3d Cir.1993); see also Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc., 473 U.S. 432, 442-47, 105 S.Ct. 3249, 3255-58, 87 L.Ed.2d 313 (1985). Thus, UMMSC's alleged unequal treatment of HIV-positive HCWs whose status is known or unknown "is presumed to be valid and will be sustained if the classification ... is rationally related to a legitimate state interest." Cleburne, 473 U.S. at 440, 105 S.Ct. at 3254. As a matter of simple logic, UMMSC cannot be expected to restrict the activities of HIV-positive HCWs when it does not know who those individuals are. We therefore conclude that UMMSC's decision to restrict the activities of only those HCWs whose HIV-positive status is known is rationally related to the unquestionably legitimate interest of protecting the health of its patients.
We hold that a hospital does not violate § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or Title II of the ADA when it terminates an HIV-positive neurosurgical resident based upon the risk of transmission of the disease during performance of exposure-prone procedures. Such individuals pose a significant risk to the health or safety of their patients that cannot be eliminated by reasonable accommodation, and therefore are not otherwise qualified within the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA. Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the district court.
Dr. Doe also argues that the Tokars study is irrelevant because it did not include neurosurgical procedures. However, the Tokars study concluded that the majority of percutaneous injuries occur during the suturing of wounds — a practice common to neurosurgery.
29 U.S.C.A. § 794(a) (West Supp.1994).
42 U.S.C.A. § 12132. The parties do not dispute that UMMSC is a "public entity" subject to the provisions of Title II of the ADA.