Georgia: "Direct Threat" to Spread HIV?
October 25, 2006
The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia (ACLU) is asking Atlanta, on behalf of an HIV-positive massage therapist, to revise a 1984 ordinance requiring a health certificate stating massage therapy practitioners are free of communicable diseases, including HIV. ACLU sent a letter to Mayor Shirley Franklin on Aug. 29 alleging the ordinance violates the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
An Oct. 13 reply letter from Atlanta's Deputy Attorney Jerry DeLoach was "less than comforting," said Beth Littrell, ACLU's legal director. The city's legal department noted ADA does not protect HIV-positive employees who constitute a "direct threat" to exposing others with HIV. ACLU's letter contended the likelihood of blood-to-blood contact during a massage is "so minimal as to be purely hypothetical."
"As you have presupposed, this event can occur, and that this event can transmit this life threatening disease," DeLoach wrote. "Thus, the risk in this case is 'significant' ... and thereby, is sufficient for the invocation of the 'direct threat' exception."
The mayor's office stands by the opinion. "The language deals with communicable diseases -- it does not single out HIV any more than it singles out TB," said Beverly Isom, Franklin's communications director.
Jeff Graham, senior director of advocacy and communications at AIDS Survival Project, called the city policy "utterly reprehensible" and said he planned to organize protests against it.
Atlanta could be exposing itself to a federal lawsuit, warned Littrell, who hopes to have direct talks with Franklin, who can ultimately decide the issue. "Any administrative action that categorically denies people to practice their trade, that has no foundation in public safety and public health, is blatantly prejudicial," said Littrell.
A city resident has also filed a discrimination complaint against the policy with the Office of Civil Rights within the US Department of Health and Human Services, which could not be reached for comment by press time.
Southern Voice (Atlanta)
10.20.2006; Ryan Lee