Atlanta finally ends shameful HIV bias lawsuit

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While you nursed your post-Pride hangover, the Atlanta City Council quietly moved to end a shameful lawsuit that exposed HIV bias within the city’s police department. The price tag for discrimination this time? Some $250,000. Hey, at least it was cheaper than digging out of the legal hole caused by the botched Atlanta Eagle raid. The council approved the settlement in a 14-0 vote – Council member Aaron Watson missed it – on Oct. 15, the day after Atlanta Pride closed its three-day celebration. The move ended an ordeal that started in 2006 when a now 40-year-old Georgia man applied to become a police officer but was rejected when it was discovered that he is HIV-positive. Gay Atlanta attorney Steve Koval sued on behalf of the man, who has remained anonymous in court documents, four years ago alleging that the city wouldn’t hire him over his HIV status and that city doctors violated his privacy. Lambda Legal, which assisted the case on appeal, announced a settlement in August. The resolution the council approved on Oct. 15 states that the city’s “potential financial exposure in defending plaintiff’s claims is far in excess of the settlement amount.” "Actions speak louder than words," Koval said in August. "Throughout this litigation, the City claimed it had not discriminated against our client based on his HIV status, but this settlement shows otherwise. Let’s hope the City takes the additional steps necessary to ensure it doesn’t ever again have to spend taxpayer dollars to defend its discriminatory conduct." In February, the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals punted the case back to U.S. District Court Judge Marvin Shoob, who originally granted a summary judgment in the city’s favor. During the appeal, the city argued that it did not consider HIV to be a disqualifying condition for police officers. Yet in 2006, a doctor who performed physicals for Atlanta police returned his medical file to the department with this statement: “Officer cannot have contact with the public” and his application was dismissed. In earlier arguments in the case, city attorneys maintained that the plaintiff could not show he was qualified to perform the job, adding that a police officer who is HIV-positive is a “direct threat” to the health and safety of others. Mediation efforts in the case failed in June and a status conference set for early July was delayed.

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