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Pedicure Case Tests AIDS Anti-Bias Law

Times Staff Writer

With his attorney charging that he is a victim of “irrational fear and misinformation” reminiscent of the Dark Ages, an AIDS patient who was denied a pedicure took the owner of a trendy nail salon to court on Monday in the first civil test of West Hollywood’s AIDS anti-discrimination law.

Paul Jasperson, 36, contends that Jessica’s Nail Clinic on Sunset Boulevard violated his civil rights when it turned him down for a pedicure in July, 1986. In opening arguments in Santa Monica Superior Court, attorney Gloria Allred said Jasperson’s case is pivotal.

“The core issue is whether Jasperson is entitled to the same treatment as everyone else,” Allred said, " . . . or whether he should be shunned, excluded and treated like a leper.”

Safety Issue

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Allred contends that Jasperson, who is suing to receive the pedicure that he was denied 18 months ago, cannot be turned down for service because he has AIDS. She said several doctors will testify to the safety of giving pedicures to AIDS sufferers during the trial.

“We will show that the risk in transmitting AIDS during a pedicure is so remote as to be nonexistent,” said Allred, noting that manicurists can wear rubber gloves or take other precautions against the disease. “We will substitute the facts for fear in this case.”

Paul J. Geragos, attorney for Jessica Vartoughian, who owns Jessica’s Nail Clinic, argued that the facts are not so clear in the case. Geragos told the court that Vartoughian had every right to deny service to Jasperson because he posed a health threat to her staff.

“We’re not talking about hysteria here,” Geragos said in his remarks before Judge Lawrence Waddington. “We’re talking about self-protection and self-defense. Is it of paramount importance that his civil rights be protected at the risk of their well-being?”

No Guarantee Seen

Geragos argued that it is impossible to guarantee the safety of Vartoughian’s staff because no one is really sure how AIDS is spread. He also noted that manicurists receive scant training in safety procedures, even though “blood does flow” during some pedicures. He described the case as a “health issue” that turns on the preservation of people’s lives.

“I have a serious problem as to what true justice means,” Geragos said. “Is it necessary to subject (the staff at Jessica’s) to the danger of death?”

Jasperson’s case is being closely watched as the first civil test of West Hollywood’s AIDS anti-discrimination law, which is designed to discourage businesses from denying employment, housing and commercial services to people with acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

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Jasperson, who is a hair stylist, claims that he received an appointment for a pedicure while visiting Jessica’s on July 22, 1986, but was later denied the service after employees at the salon heard him discussing the fact that he had AIDS.

Appears on Stand

“I was very shocked and upset,” Jasperson said on the witness stand on Monday. “I tried to schedule another appointment. But they told me that they weren’t taking any new male clients at this time.”

Jasperson said he wanted a pedicure because his job requires him to stand all day. He has since found a salon that is willing to provide him with a pedicure, knowing he has AIDS.

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The case is expected to last for three or four days. The city of West Hollywood also has a criminal case pending against Vartoughian in connection with the AIDS anti-discrimination law.


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