August 25, 2009
Washington, D.C. -- The American Civil Liberties Union has reached a settlement on behalf of a U.S. Army veteran who was denied a security job with U.S. State Department contractor Triple Canopy, Inc. because he has HIV. According to the ACLU, the State Department has agreed to policy changes that will prevent people with HIV from being automatically barred from working under Department contracts in the future. While details of the settlement with Triple Canopy are confidential, all parties are pleased with the agreement.
"I'm relieved that I can finally put this experience behind me and move on with my life," said John Doe (who is using a pseudonym to protect to protect himself and his family from further discrimination). "I feel a lot better knowing that this kind of discrimination shouldn't happen again."
The ACLU filed a lawsuit against Triple Canopy and the State Department in September 2008, charging that they illegally fired Doe in violation of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act. In November 2005, one day before graduating from a training program for a job providing security for the Haiti embassy, Doe was told by a director for Triple Canopy that he could not be employed because the State Department would not allow workers with HIV to be deployed overseas. According to legal documents filed by Triple Canopy, its contract with the State Department required it to provide test results proving that employees are free of HIV. The contract also listed "suggested physical standards," which included a requirement that all contractor personnel be "free from communicable disease."
"Although we have laws barring HIV discrimination in both the public and private sectors, the government's contract here seemed to require discrimination," said Rose Saxe, a staff attorney with the ACLU AIDS Project. "While we have no way of knowing how many other people were harmed by these illegal policies, we are pleased that the State Department has made policy changes to prevent this kind of discrimination in the future." According to the ACLU, the revised policy eliminates the requirement that contractor personnel be "free from communicable diseases," and clarifies that an individual assessment must be made as to any individual's fitness to do the job.
Doe, who was diagnosed with HIV in 2000, served his country for 20 years, until his retirement from the Army in September 2001. From 2004 to 2005, he worked for Defense Department contractors in Iraq, where he led security teams on military bases. In each of these jobs, the government was aware that Doe had HIV, and had no problem with him performing the jobs in war zones in Iraq. Like many people with HIV, Doe remains healthy with an undetectable viral load.
This case is the latest in a string of challenges against the U.S. government for discrimination against people with HIV in the workplace. In July 2008, the ACLU, advocating on behalf of a volunteer, persuaded the Peace Corps to eliminate its policy of automatically barring volunteers with HIV. In February 2008, the State Department settled a lawsuit brought by Lambda Legal on behalf of a Foreign Service Worker for HIV discrimination and agreed to eliminate its policy of automatically excluding workers with HIV.
While work remains to be done, the Obama administration seems to be taking its obligations under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act seriously. In addition to the announced changes at the State Department, the Department of Justice recently issued new guidelines to state licensing boards and occupational training schools clarifying that it is a violation of the ADA to bar people with HIV from professions such as barbering, massage therapy and home health care assistance. Like the State Department contracts at issue here, licensing boards in some states have rules barring people with "communicable diseases" that were being interpreted to exclude people with HIV. By issuing these guidelines, the DOJ is telling states that these policies will not be tolerated. A copy of the guidelines are available at http://www.ada.gov/qahivaids_license.pdf.
The legal documents filed in the ACLU case, Doe v. Clinton, are available at http://www.aclu.org/hiv/discrim/38209res20081223.html.
In addition to Saxe, Doe is being represented by Leslie Cooper, Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU's AIDS Project; Arthur B. Spitzer, Legal Director of the ACLU of the Nation's Capital; and Richard A. Rosen, Patricia Crowley Corcoran, Donna M. Ioffredo, and Ilana D. Waxman of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.