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Gay Couple Caught in AIDS Test Battle : Law: An Inglewood firm tries to force ex-employee to provide details of his lover’s health. At issue is the state’s confidentiality law.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

To some of their gay friends, an acquaintance says, they are known as “the boring couple.” When friends want to go out on the town, John Herbert and Douglas Good say no, they’d rather stay home. They like their privacy, Good explained.

So it’s ironic that the gay Hawthorne couple now find themselves at the center of a legal battle concerning privacy and the AIDS virus. In a challenge to a state law protecting the confidentiality of persons who take the AIDS virus test, an Inglewood company is trying to compel Herbert to provide details about his longtime lover’s physical health.

In pressing Herbert for answers, representatives of the ACLU and AIDS Project Los Angeles said in a Monday news conference that the company, Amrex-Zetron--target of a landmark $5-million lawsuit filed by Herbert--is not only intruding on the couple’s privacy but is in effect advocating a poor public health policy.

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In court documents, Amrex attorneys have described the confidentiality law as “unconstitutionally vague and over-broad.” But Herbert’s supporters expressed concern that any weakening of the 1985 confidentiality law would discourage persons from being tested for the AIDS virus, resulting in further spread of the disease. The news conference was held to denounce Amrex’s “tortured” attempt to try to overturn state law.

Attorneys for Amrex, a small manufacturer of medical equipment, asked Herbert for details on Good’s health during an October deposition in Herbert’s suit, which charges that he was subjected to on-the-job harassment. After Herbert declined to respond, Amrex filed a motion asking the court to compel him to reveal the information.

Herbert’s attorney, Mike Marko, said he would be “absolutely shocked” if the court rules in Amrex’s favor when it hears arguments Feb. 6. Marko and Jon W. Davidson, an ACLU attorney representing Good, said they suspected Amrex’s attorneys filed the motion in an attempt to pressure Herbert to drop his suit.

One of Amrex’s attorneys, Hallie S. Hochman, declined to discuss the case Monday. The motion filed by Hochman and co-counsel Paul R. Pearlson contends that knowledge about Good’s health is crucial to defending Amrex against Herbert’s lawsuit.

Herbert filed suit against Amrex in 1988, after quitting the firm on doctors orders. The former department manager for the firm contends that the harassment cost him his job and caused ulcers and severe emotional distress.

The harassment worsened, Herbert contends in his suit, after his employers and fellow employees developed the mistaken belief that he had AIDS. Herbert has acknowledged testing positive for HIV, but has not developed any of symptoms of AIDS.

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The dispute over Good’s health arose in a deposition last October. When Amrex attorneys repeatedly asked Herbert whether Good had also tested positive for the HIV virus, Herbert’s attorney, Marko, repeatedly objected. Not only is Good entitled to his privacy, Marko argued, but for Herbert to answer would itself be a violation of the HIV confidentiality law.

In their motion, Pearlson and Hochman suggest that Good’s condition is germane to their case. Herbert’s emotional distress, they suggest, may not have stemmed from alleged harassment at work, but from his relationship with Good.

“It is only logical,” Pearlson argued, “that if plaintiff contracted the HIV virus from or transmitted the HIV virus to Doug Good, it would cause a severe emotional strain on their relationship.”

The ACLU’S Davidson called Amrex’s argument “incredibly tortured.”

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