Ohio Jury Awards $490,000 to Former McDonald's Employee Claiming Company Discriminated Based on HIV-Positive Status

A Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Common Pleas Court jury on Thursday ruled that fast-food company McDonald's pressured a former employee to resign in 1997 because of his HIV-positive status and awarded the man $490,000, the Akron Beacon Journal reports (Akron Beacon Journal, 7/8). Russell Rich, who had worked at McDonald's for 20 years and was employed as a manager when he resigned, first sued the corporation in October 1998, saying supervisors had altered his duties after he complained about a "hostile work environment." Rich, who has AIDS, in 2001 won a $5 million verdict against McDonald's, but a three-judge panel of the 8th Ohio District Court of Appeals in October 2003 overturned the award, ruling that the company did not receive a fair trial. McDonald's offered to settle out of court for $300,000, but Paige Martin, Rich's attorney, said the offer was inadequate. Judge John Patton, a retired judge from Ohio's 8th District Court of Appeals, began proceedings on a new trial in Cuyahoga County last month (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/21).

Reaction, Next Steps
After the ruling on Thursday, Rich said, "With me, it's always been the principle, not really the money, but I was disappointed in the amount [awarded] because my medications cost $145,000 per year." Martin said she will appeal the award amount because she said Patton made errors during the trial. McDonald's said it might appeal the ruling. "We are clearly disappointed with the jury's verdict in this case," McDonald's spokesperson Bill Whitman said, adding, "As we have stated from the beginning of this case, Mr. Rich's allegations are baseless and without merit." Rich said he is hoping McDonald's will create an "AIDS policy" for its employees (Akron Beacon Journal, 7/8).

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