Yesterday, a federal judge in Texas approved a settlement secured by Lambda Legal and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of Michael Janssen, a certified nursing assistant fired in 2013 by Granite Mesa Health Center in Marble Falls, Texas, after he disclosed he was living with HIV.
Under the terms of the settlement, Granite Mesa's new owners -- who purchased the facility after Michael was wrongfully terminated -- agreed to pay Janssen $70,000 and to conduct on-site training regarding an employer's obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal law prohibiting disability discrimination and retaliation.
The settlement also requires the new owners to reiterate to all employees its policy against discrimination, to provide training on HIV and disability-based discrimination, and to publish a mechanism for reporting complaints of discrimination.
"We are very happy to have reached this favorable settlement for Michael, and are grateful that Granite Mesa's new owners worked proactively with us to achieve this resolution," Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Paul D. Castillo said. "Granite Mesa should have never fired Michael for being HIV positive, and the facility's new owners quickly agreed to settle the case. Lambda Legal will continue to fight to ensure HIV-positive health care workers are protected in the workplace."
Janssen worked at Granite Mesa nearly a year when he was abruptly fired in September 2013, two days after he notified the Director of Nursing that he had tested positive for HIV and just one day after the Granite Mesa administrator demanded to know his viral load and CD4 white blood cell count in accordance, the administrator said, with so-called "company policy." When Janssen asked to see a copy of the policy the next day, he was fired.
Janssen then contacted Lambda Legal, who filed a complaint on his behalf with the EEOC. The EEOC issued a probable cause determination in August, 2015, and then late last year filed a lawsuit against Granite Mesa. Lambda Legal joined the lawsuit in November.
"As nurses living with HIV in general do not pose a risk of HIV transmission to their patients, a certified nursing assistant such as Michael -- who performs basic nursing duties such as feeding, bathing, toileting and ambulatory assistance -- certainly does not present any risk of transmission to the people for whom he cares," Castillo added. "Granite Mesa's previous owners caved in to the fear and ignorance surrounding HIV and unlawfully fired Michael. They should have known better."
The lawsuit charged that Granite Mesa violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), since he was suspended and, thereafter, fired even though he was able to perform the duties of his job and posed no threat to the health or safety of his patients. Granite Mesa also violated the ADA in demanding to know Janssen's viral load and CD4 white blood cell count, information that had absolutely no bearing on his ability to do his job.
"I am delighted at last to see justice done, and grateful that Granite Mesa's new owners acted quickly to resolve the case," Michael Janssen said. "I was and still am completely capable of performing all my work responsibilities. I posed no threat. In fact, right after being fired, I was rehired as a nursing assistant by my previous employer, another assisted living facility, even though I told them I was living with HIV. My HIV status in no way affects my ability to do my job."