Banking Giant JPMorgan Chase Sued Over Alleged HIV Discrimination

A former corporate vice president of JPMorgan Chase is suing the banking giant, alleging the corporation violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by ignoring a doctor's order related to the man's HIV care.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) filed the suit on Jan. 2, 2015, in the Superior Court of California in Los Angeles. It was filed on behalf of Jesus Leon, the bank's former vice president of community development banking in Los Angeles. The suit alleges the bank violated California law as well as the ADA.

The lawsuit states that Leon began working with Chase in June of 2010 as vice president of global philanthropy, and in January of 2012 accepted a position in Los Angeles. It explains that he was diagnosed with HIV in 2004, and maintains that -- prior to July 2012 when the alleged discrimination began -- Chase was aware of his HIV-positive status.

Federal law has determined that being HIV positive qualifies under the ADA. As such, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for an employee living with HIV.

In April 2012, Leon says, he submitted documentation from his doctor explaining that he needed a medical leave. Chase approved that leave and Leon returned to his post in July 2012.

According to the case, his physician also wrote that that Leon, because of his medical condition, should not work more than 40 hours per week. Leon states he requested that the company provide a reasonable accommodation on this basis, but alleges in his lawsuit that the company did not honor the request to limit his work hours to 40 hours per week. On July 19, 2014, Leon claims that as a result of working more than 40 hours, his medical condition worsened, requiring his being transported from his work by an ambulance.

The next day, Leon says in his lawsuit, he filed a formal complaint with Chase Human Resources officials regarding the company's alleged failure to honor his medically necessary reasonable accommodation.

"A request for accommodation opens a discussion between the employer and the employee," Matthew J. Barragan, staff attorney at MALDEF, said in a press release. "Employers need to earnestly analyze the job at hand and assess whether an employee with a disability is able to perform the essential function of that job with a reasonable accommodation. People with disabilities cannot be excluded from jobs due to ill-conceived assumptions about their abilities."

Less than a month later, the lawsuit alleges, Leon was "constructively discharged and forced to resign his position from Chase because Defendants failed to accommodate his condition and engage in an interactive process to determine how to accommodate his condition."

"For a large and sophisticated corporate entity like Chase to treat an employee with a serious disability so cavalierly is simply inexcusable in this day and age," said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel, in a press release. "We should expect our largest employers to act with greater sensitivity to moral and legal obligation."

JPMorgan Chase has not made any comment on the lawsuit.