Lawsuit charges State Department with discrimination against HIV-positive job seeker

Posted on 13 Jan 2009 at 10:50am
By From Staff Reports

Former soldier was refused security job at U.S. Embassy in Haiti

WASHINGTON – Officials with the ACLU announced Monday, Jan. 12 that the ACLU has filed a lawsuit charging the U.S. Department of State with discrimination for refusing to hire a Special Forces veteran because he has HIV.

The lawsuit claims the State Department and its contractor Triple Canopy, Inc., of Herndon, Va., denied the former soldier, identified only as John Doe, a security job with Triple Canopy under its contract to protect the U.S. Embassy in Haiti for the State Department.

A motion filed by Triple Canopy late Friday, Jan. 9 confirmed that the State Department contract required a negative HIV test for all employees, according to a press release from the ACLU, which claims that requirement violates the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans for Disabilities Act.

"After putting my life on the line for my country for more than 20 years, I can’t believe my government is saying that I’m unworthy to work because I have HIV," John Doe said in a written statement released by the ACLU. ACLU officials said the veteran is going by a pseudonym to protect himself and his family from further discrimination.

"I need this job to support my family. I’m in good health, well qualified and eager to serve," John Doe said.

According to the ACLU’s press release, Doe applied and was accepted in October 2005 to work for Triple Canopy to provide personal security for the U.S. embassy in Haiti. On Nov. 9, 2005, the day before John Doe graduated from the training program, a director for the company told him he was being let go because the State Department would not allow workers with HIV to be deployed oversees, the lawsuit charges.

The ACLU press release said that according to the motion filed by Triple Canopy on Jan. 9, the "Worldwide Personal Protective Services Contract," which the State Department used to hire contractors to fulfill U.S. security needs around the globe, required that all personnel working under the contract produce a "[v]alid negative HIV result within six (6) months of report date to FDC [Forward Deployment Center]."

The contract also lists "suggested physical standards," which include a requirement that all contractor personnel be "free from communicable disease."

Yet, ACLU officials noted, in its own answer to the lawsuit, the State Department claims that its contract with Triple Canopy doesn’t bar people with HIV from employment.

"It is bad enough that people with HIV continue to face discrimination because of fear and lack of understanding about how HIV is transmitted," said Rose Saxe of the ACLU AIDS Project. "But it is especially troublesome when a government contract is at the root of that discrimination. We need the courts to make it clear to the government and its contractors that they cannot discriminate against qualified people because they have HIV."

Triple Canopy is also claiming that it was justified in denying Doe the job because he posed a risk to others because he has HIV, a claim Saxe refuted.

Doe, who was diagnosed with HIV in 2000, served in the U.S. military 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, the ACLU press release said.

After being terminated by Triple Canopy, Doe filed a charge with the E.E.O.C. against the company. After conducting an investigation into the firing, the E.E.O.C. issued a Right to Sue letter, finding there was "reasonable cause" to believe that Triple Canopy had illegally fired Doe in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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.

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