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HIV-Positive Man Sues Atlanta Police Department for Employment Discrimination

By Kellee Terrell

September 21, 2011

Was an Atlanta man denied a job as a police officer because he was unqualified for the position or because he is HIV positive?

Lambda Legal believes HIV status played a factor in why "Richard Roe" was not offered a job. Last week, the legal organization that represents members of the LGBT and HIV/AIDS community who have been discriminated against, finished its briefing in front of the Court of Appeals in hopes that it will overturn the 2006 ruling that sided with the city.

The Georgia Voice reported:

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2006. A lower court ruled in favor of the city because Roe "could not show he was qualified to perform the job because it believed that a police officer with HIV presents a 'direct threat' to the health and safety of others," according to Lambda Legal.

The city of Atlanta argued during litigation that it did not consider HIV a reason to not hire someone as a police officer and that the city had no policy against hiring people with HIV. But by calling Roe a "direct threat" in the lower court, the city did indeed discriminate based on his HIV status, alleges Lambda Legal.

Lambda Legal is representing Roe in his appeal to attempt to make the burden fall on the city -- the defendant -- rather than on the plaintiff when trying to prove someone cannot hold a job due to his or her HIV status.

"Because the 11th Circuit places the burden on the plaintiff, he got caught in a Catch 22," said Scott Schoettes, Lambda Legal's HIV Project Director. "Roe gathered a lot of reasons why he was not a direct threat. A great injustice was done to Richard Roe."

Schoettes told the Georgia Voice, "We want to change of city of Atlanta's way of thinking [and] bring them into the current millennium. We want to make it clear the city cannot discriminate and act on it. Then, in terms of the law, we really would like to see the 11th circuit change the place burden. Most other circuits place burden on the employer."

A spokesperson from Mayor Kasim Reed's office claims that HIV had nothing to do with why Richard Roe was not hired. According to this person, the police department rejected Roe's application before it knew about his HIV status.

Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for and

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