CLARKSVILLE, Ind. — The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Clarksville, Indiana, accusing the town of discriminating against an employee because of his HIV status.
The lawsuit alleges Clarksville violated Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by revoking the job offer upon learning the officer was living with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus).
The Justice Department said the officer had been working for the police department as a volunteer reserve officer for more than a year and was fully qualified.
Title I of the ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified individuals because of a disability. Discrimination can include withdrawing a job offer based on “unsupported and stereotypical views of the applicant’s disability,” the department said.
“Individuals living with HIV are entitled to the full protection of our anti-discrimination laws,” said U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Myers. “Our office will work closely with our partners in the Civil Rights Division to ensure that those who seek to serve the public are not unlawfully discriminated against.”
“No qualified individual should lose a hard-earned career opportunity because of misguided views about their disability that are not supported by medicine or science,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The scientific community has agreed for years that an HIV diagnosis does not make an employee a risk to their colleagues or others.”
Clarke said the lawsuit was intended to protect qualified workers from “unlawful employment discrimination.”
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana are handling the case based on a recommendation from the Indianapolis District Office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The case dates back to October 2015, when the prospective officer was given a conditional job offer. He had to pass a state-mandated medical examination.
The applicant advised the medical examiner that he was under a doctor’s care for HIV and was taking antiretroviral medications. The medical examiner noted the applicant was taking “antiviral medications,” had “no long-term evidence of active disease” and showed no indications of other health issues.
Despite the examination, the medical examiner told the chief of police the applicant did not meet statewide medical standards because his “HIV was a ‘communicable disease’ that posed a ‘significant risk of substantial harm to the health and safety’ of his colleagues and the public,” according to court documents.
As a result of the medical examiner’s opinion, the police chief withdrew the offer of employment. The applicant appealed the decision for months; the town later acknowledged he was qualified and put him back on its hiring list.
The town never hired him, however.
“Clarksville’s actions delayed the start of Complainant’s career in law enforcement and caused him significant emotional distress, including humiliation, depression, and anxiety, as well as other monetary and dignitary harms,” the Justice Department argued in its complaint.
The applicant went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which investigated and found “reasonable cause” to believe the allegations of discrimination. The EEOC’s conciliation efforts failed, however, leading the agency to refer the case to the Justice Department.