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HIV-Positive Man Files Discrimination Suit Against State Department, Security Firm

January 28, 2009

An HIV-positive man identified as John Doe recently filed a lawsuit against the Department of State and the private, Virginia-based security firm Triple Canopy for removing him from a training program because of a provision of the State Department's contract with the company that requires contract employees to be "free from communicable disease," including HIV, the Washington Post reports.

According to the Post, Doe -- a former U.S. Army Special Forces engineer, intelligence officer and team sergeant in places such as Haiti, Kenya, Kuwait and Pakistan -- would have provided security to diplomats in Haiti. The Post reports that such positions carry the risk of blood exposure during potential attacks. Doe's attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union and a New York-based law firm have argued that the federal Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit discrimination based on disabilities, including HIV. Doe's court brief states, "Despite these mandated protections, the State Department required certain of its contractors to terminate, or deem ineligible for employment all individuals with HIV regardless of their ability to perform the essential functions of the job." Doe's brief adds that his HIV status "did not impede" his performance in previous positions with similar functions.

The State Department denied the allegation in Doe's brief that it "barred Triple Canopy from hiring anyone with HIV" to work under the contract, the Post reports. According to Triple Canopy, Doe posed a "consequent threat to the safety and health of other individuals" because of the potentially hazardous conditions of the position and risk of blood exposure. The firm in its brief added that if Doe were wounded, "his colleagues would face the choice of either refusing to render aid to him or doing so without the ability to comply" with procedures for treating HIV-positive people, which include wearing masks and rubber gloves. Triple Canopy added that although it is "well-established that HIV-positive status does not present a direct threat to the safety and health of others in a normal working environment," federal laws aimed at preventing discrimination toward people with disabilities, including HIV, are not "intended" to promote employment "at the risk of their own health or safety or that of others" (Davidson, Washington Post, 1/28).

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