October 7, 2011
An HIV-positive Chicago Public Schools (CPS) elementary school teacher filed a discrimination lawsuit against the district this week.
Jumeck Smith claimed in his suit that the principal denied him accommodations granted by the CPS because of his HIV status. Smith, who is black, also claimed that his school's principal treated him less favorably than teachers who were not African American.
In papers filed in U.S. District Court, Jumeck Smith accused the principal at Von Humboldt Elementary on Chicago's Northwest Side of failing to adhere to the district's accommodations, which allow Smith to report to work five minutes later than his co-workers. According to Smith, his condition limited his movement so that he was frequently reporting to work after the 8 a.m. start time for teachers.
"It's a long building and he has to walk a bit of a distance. And I'm not an expert on HIV issues, but I think it takes him a long time to do something that you or I could do very simply," Smith's attorney, Christopher Cooper, told the Tribune. ...
Since federal privacy laws restrict employers from divulging whether an employee is HIV-positive, it's unclear who at the school knew of Smith's condition, Cooper continued. But according to the lawsuit, the principal knew and harassed Smith over several weeks -- to the point that his work environment became hostile.
Moreover, Smith said he was denied necessary supplies and equipment for his classroom, and that the principal would routinely send him offensive emails. Smith is currently on paid leave and is seeking $325,000 in damages.
Having HIV does not impair teaching ability and being an HIV-positive teacher does not put students or faculty at risk. But with the filing of this lawsuit, Cooper said his client realizes that this "may be the end of his teaching career."
Let's hope not.
Warren Tong is the research editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow Warren on Twitter: @WarrenAtTheBody.
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