City of Atlanta faces HIV-bias charges

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Atlanta is generally considered a forward-thinking city with progressive elected officials, but city leaders continue to tiptoe toward the 1980s when taking certain positions on HIV and AIDS. For the second time in two years, city officials are allegedly “digging in their heels” to defend policies related to HIV/AIDS that have been discredited by science for decades.

In court papers filed this month, city officials denied that the Atlanta Police Department refused to hire an applicant because he tested positive for HIV, as alleged in a federal lawsuit. A former police recruit, who is identified in the lawsuit by the alias “Richard Roe,” claimed that in September 2006 a doctor who conducts physical examinations on behalf of the city informed him that he was HIV-positive, and that the police department does not hire HIV-positive individuals.

But a spokesperson for Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin said the man was not hired because he didn’t complete the physical, which is required for all city employees. After the applicant tested HIV-positive during the initial physical, “the physician attempted to contact the recruit several times” for a follow-up, said Franklin spokesperson Beverly Isom.

“For whatever reason, he chose not to go back to the physician,” Isom said. “He simply had to go back for a follow-up. This isn’t about HIV, this is about him [not finishing] the physical.

“The city could not offer him a job not because of what the test results were, but because he didn’t pass the physical,” Isom added.

But when the applicant filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in December 2006, the city responded that the HIV diagnosis was “a disqualifying condition.”

“Because applicants are required to engage in hand-to-hand combat in the Police Academy and subsequently [in] the field, diseases passed through the blood present a hazardous condition and as such are disqualifying conditions,” the city’s response to the EEOC stated.

Roe’s attorneys, Michael Grider and Steve Koval, declined to comment.

The city’s claim that the applicant was fired because he didn’t complete his physical exam “does not seem to match with what they represented to the EEOC,” said Greg Nevins, a senior staff attorney in the Atlanta office of Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund.

“They’re still trying to backtrack from that,” Nevins said. “There’s a difference from saying we have an additional reason, but when you say it was never about HIV, from what we know so far it doesn’t seem like that is likely to fly.”

The city’s response to the EEOC also accuses the applicant of “failure to comply with the recruitment process” by being “unresponsive.”

“As an applicant, once you enter the process, we’re supposed to be able to reach you within a reasonable amount of time,” Al Elder, director of diversity for the city of Atlanta’s Human Resources department, said this week.

The thought that HIV would be a disqualification from employment as a police officer is absurd, Isom said.

“I have to believe there are people who have HIV [working in the department],” Isom said.

Read the full story from Southern Voice.


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