Atlanta to pay $250K to man denied police officer job because of HIV status

ATLANTA — Lambda Legal said today that it has accepted the settlement offer to resolve the discrimination lawsuit against the City of Atlanta. The lawsuit is on behalf of its anonymous client, who applied to be a police officer with the Atlanta Police Department (APD) but was denied employment because of his HIV status.

“We are pleased with this resolution and expect that the City of Atlanta will never let this happen again,” said Scott Schoettes, Lambda Legal’s HIV Project Director. “People with HIV are working in law enforcement all across this country, and there is no reason their service should not be welcomed and encouraged by the Atlanta Police Department.”

“We are glad that the City of Atlanta has moved to right its wrong,” said Greg Nevins, Supervising Senior Staff Attorney at Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Office in Atlanta and co-counsel in Lambda Legal’s 2010 Atlanta Eagle bar raid case against the APD. “We expect that the City, after paying out settlements in both the Eagle raid case and now this case, has learned to avoid the unnecessary costs of failing to treat LGBT people and those living with HIV fairly and appropriately.”

“Actions speak louder than words,” said Steve Koval, Lambda Legal’s co-counsel and one of Roe’s original attorneys. “Throughout this litigation, the City claimed it had not discriminated against our client based on his HIV status, but this settlement shows otherwise. Let’s hope the City takes the additional steps necessary to ensure it doesn’t ever again have to spend taxpayer dollars to defend its discriminatory conduct.”

The plaintiff, who is proceeding under the pseudonym “Richard Roe” to protect his privacy, is a now 40-year-old Georgia man living with HIV who applied to be a police officer with the APD in early 2006. During a pre-employment medical exam, the APD learned that Roe was HIV-positive, and the doctor informed Roe that his HIV status disqualified him from becoming a police officer with the APD. When he subsequently wasn’t hired, Roe filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia against the City of Atlanta.

During the litigation, the City maintained that it did not consider HIV to be a disqualifying condition for the position of police officer and that it had no policy against hiring people with HIV. However, on summary judgment, the City of Atlanta reversed course and claimed that Roe was not qualified. The City contended that a police officer with HIV presents a “direct threat” to the health and safety of others. The City did not support its new-found belief with any evidence. Nonetheless, the district court granted summary judgment in the City’s favor – not because the City had established that a police officer with HIV presents any kind of threat to the health or safety of others, but because the district court thought Roe had not produced sufficient evidence to prove he would not be a direct threat to others while serving in this capacity.

Lambda Legal argued on appeal before the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit that Roe presented sufficient evidence to satisfy his legal burden to show that his HIV is not a threat to others, and that the City should not have been permitted to argue that he is a “direct threat” after taking the contrary position leading up to summary judgment. Last February, the Eleventh Circuit held that the lower court prematurely and incorrectly denied Roe his day in court and sent the case back to the district court for further proceedings. Shortly thereafter, the parties were ordered into settlement discussions by the district court.

The case is Roe v. City of Atlanta.

Scott Schoettes, HIV Project Director, and Gregory R. Nevins, Supervising Senior Staff Attorney, are handling the case for Lambda Legal.

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