Officer’s lawsuit shines a light on HIV discrimination at work

If your are positive for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), do you stand a greater-than-average chance of facing discrimination at work? Many people think so — and a couple of lawsuits involving a former police officer and two members of the Air Force are finally bringing some attention to the issue.

Long gone are the days when misinformation about how HIV spreads was common, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody got the message. A police officer in Louisiana found himself abruptly denied a job that had looked like a sure thing. He learned this almost immediately after he disclosed his HIV-positive status during the pre-employment medical review. Although his HIV status was not the official reason he was suddenly denied the job, it seemed clear enough to everyone what had happened — enough to result in a $90,000 settlement over the issue.

But experts say that the officer’s case is symptomatic of a national issue. Even though the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) bans discrimination against those with HIV, there were at least 155 cases of such discrimination presented to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2019 alone. While that’s just .6% of the discrimination claims EEOC sees, HIV-positive people make up only .3% of the population. Those figures indicate that HIV-positive people experience discrimination at a higher than normal rate.

The officer isn’t the only person with HIV to fight back. In January, two Air Force members won an injunction against the military’s rule that summarily discharges anyone who tests positive for the disease. More lawsuits regarding military members in other branches are likely to follow.

Medical experts increasingly stress that the fear of HIV contagion from a co-worker is based simply on “pure ignorance” and that the risk of transmission even by being splashed with body fluids is near zero — especially when someone is taking medication for the disease. But the entrenched beliefs from the past remain, stigmatizing victims and interfering with their livelihoods.

If you are HIV-positive and experienced workplace discrimination because of it, you should know that you have legal protections and rights. Find out more today about your options.

super lawyers
New York County Lawyers Association
New York City Bar
NELA Advocates for Employee Rights National Employment Lawyers Association
lead counsel lc verified