HIV-Positive Helicopter Paramedic Grounded Due to Status

In a claim filed in federal court earlier this month, civil rights organization Lambda Legal alleges that an air medical transportation company discriminated against a helicopter paramedic because of his HIV status.

In its press release announcing the lawsuit, Lambda Legal claims that Air Evac Lifeteam (AEL) removed Clint Moore from his job as a flight paramedic and "demoted" him to a lower paying, lower-responsibility post in the company dispatch center after AEL managers learned he was HIV-positive.

Moore says that his job responsibilities swiftly changed in Dec. 2013 once he notified company managers of his HIV status in the course of filing a Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) claim with his human resources department. According to the lawsuit, "[a]fter applying for FMLA leave, Mr. Moore was contacted by AEL's Human Resources representative, Tracy Bowlin, who required that he reveal the precise medical reason he was requesting FMLA leave."

Moore says that he had hoped to take some time off work to adjust to his new HIV treatments.

Lambda Legal claims that that one day after Moore disclosed his status to Bowlin, AEL put Moore on administrative leave from his job as a flight paramedic, citing "safety concerns for Mr. Moore's patients."

As a flight paramedic, Moore primarily "assisted patients who were being transported to medical care facilities" and helped with "airway management, starting intravenous therapies, controlling bleeding, and administering certain advanced medications," according to the lawsuit. In other words, he flew in a medical helicopter and provided first-response treatment to victims of various traumas.

Moore says that, after meeting with Bowlin, AEL told him he would have to go through an onerous medical board review process -- "to petition the medical board in each of the five states where he flew missions" and receive clearance from each one -- in order to come back to work.

According to Lambda, Moore refused because "the avenue for making such an effort was unclear" and he knew that the process was unnecessary because "his job did not include tasks that would put the health or safety of his patients at risk." Subsequently, Moore was reassigned to AEL's dispatch center, which his attorneys note "paid significantly less and deprived him of the ability to directly care for those in need."

AEL's lawyers dispute Moore's account, describing the review process as routine, and saying that Moore's paramedic duties included "invasive procedures" that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines say warrant medical board review. "[T]he various states in which Mr. Moore worked have independent medical boards to review cases just like his," explained AEL attorney Jessica L. Liss to via email. "If he had received approval from those boards so we knew we would be in compliance with our government regulators, Air Evac told him he would be reinstated to flight status," Liss argues. "Mr. Moore chose not to seek medical clearance."

AEL says that, as a consequence, Moore was offered reassignment to a position that "was upgraded so that [he] would earn additional compensation and so he would he not lose his medical coverage through [AEL's] health plan." Liss adds that AEL "strongly believes its actions were in full compliance with the law and in keeping with its commitment to patient safety and to treating employees fairly."

However, Kyle Palazzolo, the Lambda Legal staff attorney representing Moore, says that AEL's reassignment to the dispatch center wasn't equitable -- and that AEL's request that Moore himself make filings with various medical boards was rooted in stigma.

"This conduct is especially troubling from an employer in the health care field, who should already be aware that Mr. Moore's HIV-positive status did not present a risk to either his patients or his coworkers," Palazzolo asserts. "AEL and other employees in the health care industry need to get up to speed and stop discriminating against people living with HIV based on outdated science and misconceptions."

Josh Kruger is an award-winning writer and commentator in Philadelphia. His work often focuses on HIV/AIDS, cultural stigmas and social problems. You can follow him on Twitter @jawshkruger.