Judges Weigh HIV-Positive Man’s Job Bias Claim Against Atlanta Police

By | January 27, 2012

A panel of federal judges appeared skeptical Wednesday of the Atlanta police department’s decision to reject a job application from an HIV-infected man.

The 40-year-old man sued the city in 2010, claiming he was denied a police officer job solely because he has the virus. Atlanta attorneys argued there are other officers on the force with HIV, and said the police department does not have a blanket policy disqualifying candidates with the virus. Gay rights groups and police agencies are closely following the case.

One of the three judges signaled the lawsuit would likely be sent back to a lower judge to reconsider.

“I don’t see how we can avoid a remand in this case,” Circuit Judge R. Lanier Anderson said.

The judges will issue a ruling later.

The man sued under the pseudonym Richard Roe and has requested anonymity because he believes his medical condition could prevent him from other job opportunities. He said in an interview he was a former criminal investigator with the city of Los Angeles who discovered he had HIV in 1997, but that it didn’t hinder his ability to perform his duties.

Roe moved to Atlanta to find a better job and joined the city’s taxicab enforcement unit. In January 2006, he decided he wanted to join the police force. He passed a series of tests, but hit a snag when a blood test revealed he had the virus that causes AIDS.

The doctor didn’t do any more tests, according to records, and recommended to the city that he have “no physical contact or involvement with individuals.”

Atlanta attorneys said the city follows the recommendation of the physicians who examine candidates, and in this case, the doctor advised the department to limit Roe’s interaction with the public.

“We’re told that he can’t do the job,” said Robert Godfrey, a city attorney. “We have to assume when a doctor tells us this, he can’t perform the essential duties.”

Roe’s attorney, Scott Schoettes of gay rights group Lambda Legal, said there was no evidence that Roe posed a threat to the health and safety of others. The city violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act by not fully vetting his client, Schoettes said.

Roe’s advocates said the city’s position perpetuates myths about HIV that have persisted for three decades. Modern medical advances have made the disease a manageable condition that in many cases won’t affect job performance even in the most demanding fields, they said.

“I really see an opportunity for the city of Atlanta to make some drastic changes and move forward,” Roe said. “I think that’s what this whole case is about.”

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