Atlanta police sued by HIV-positive applicant

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A Georgia man is continuing his lawsuit against the City of Atlanta and its police department for saying his HIV-positive status poses a “direct threat” to the health and safety of others and rejecting his application to become a cop.

The 39-year-old man, who is identified by the pseudonym Richard Roe, lost the first round of the lawsuit in federal court when the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia granted a summary judgment in the city’s favor. Lambda Legal filed the lawsuit after Roe’s application was rejected in 2006.

image“There was no good reason to deny our client this opportunity. People living with HIV are serving as police officers all across the country; they are involved in every kind of work and participate in all walks of life,” Scott Schoettes (second photo), Lambda Legal’s HIV Project Director, says in a prepared statement. “If the promise of equal opportunity contained in the Americans with Disabilities Act is to be fulfilled, employers’ misconceptions and outdated policies need to be challenged.”

Lambda’s statement on Wednesday about the lawsuit comes as it completes its appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. It’s not the first time Lambda has taken on Atlanta or its police department – it played a role in filing a lawsuit in 2009 over the botched Eagle raid that resulted in a $1 million settlement and sweeping reforms to the law enforcement agency.

Lambda has also tangled with the Georgia General Assembly, suing it in 2008 on behalf of Vandy Beth Glenn. She was fired from her job after announcing her transition from male to female. Lambda also weighed in on the case of an Augusta State University graduate student suing the school over efforts to keep her anti-gay personal beliefs out of her counseling.

In the Roe lawsuit, Lambda says city attorneys first said that it did not consider HIV to be a disqualifying condition for police officers, despite a doctor informing Roe that his HIV status did bar him. The city later reversed course and argued that Roe 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.

Lambda argues in its appeal that Roe showed that his HV status is not a threat to others and that the city should not have been allowed to change its position. The non-profit legal group also says the burden should be on the employer to show that HIV-positive applicants pose a threat and not the applicant.

“The City of Atlanta is talking out of both sides of its mouth. They claim that having HIV doesn’t prevent someone from becoming a police officer; then they walk into court and say that it does,” says Greg Nevins, supervising senior staff attorney at Lambda’s Southern Regional Office in Atlanta. “It was unfair for the district court to allow the Atlanta Police Department to get away with this, especially when the available science supports our client.”


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