Report: Atlanta settles HIV bias lawsuit for $250K

City to pay former police recruit denied officer position because of HIV status

The City of Atlanta will pay a HIV-positive police recruit a settlement fee of $250,000 to resolve an almost four-year long discrimination lawsuit.

Lambda Legal, which bases its Southern Regional Office in Midtown, made the announcement Wednesday involving the case of an anonymous recruit, who said he was denied employment because of his HIV status and that City doctors violated his privacy.

"We are glad that the City of Atlanta has moved to right its wrong," Greg Nevins, supervising senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal's Midtown office, said in a news release.

Nevins was co-counsel in Lambda Legal's 2010 Atlanta Eagle bar raid case against the APD that ultimately cost the City nearly $2.7 million in attorney fees and settlements. "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."

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 settlement must still be approvaed by the Atlanta City Council and Mayor Kasim Reed.


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