Couture v. Bonfils Memorial Blood Center
John Couture was hired to work as a phlebotomist at the defendant blood donation center, but the Center removed him from that position after learning that he had HIV. The replacement position had lower skill requirements and did not involve patient contact. Dissatisfied with this position, Couture resigned after only a few weeks. He sued in federal court, claiming violation of federal and Colorado antidiscrimination laws. The trial court ruled in favor of the employer and dismissed the case. Couture then appealed.
In January 2005, Lambda Legal filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of several HIV advocacy and medical groups, asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit to find that Couture had been discriminated against in violation of federal and Colorado antidiscrimination laws. The brief explained to the court the reasons why Couture was disabled by HIV and therefore entitled to legal protections. In October 2005, the appellate court ruled in favor of the Bonfils Memorial Blood Center on unrelated grounds, failing to address the disability issue.
People living with HIV continue to experience discrimination in employment because they have HIV. But to be entitled to protection against discrimination, a person with HIV must prove that he or she is disabled or regarded as disabled. At the time Lambda Legal filed its brief, this appellate court had not addressed the issue of whether a person with HIV is "disabled" within the meaning of federal disability discrimination law.
Lambda Legal's Impact
Lambda Legal’s brief addressed important issues on the application of federal and state disability protections to people living with HIV, which had not yet been addressed by the appellate court.
- August 2004 Federal district court judge grants summary judgment to employer, deciding that Couture did not suffer an adverse employment action when he was reassigned from one position to another. The court does not address the issues of whether plaintiff was disabled by HIV or whether he could or could not safely work as a phlebotomist.
- January 2005 Lambda Legal files a friend-of-the-court brief in support of plaintiff’s appeal. Lambda Legal’s brief explains the reasons why someone with HIV is "disabled" and therefore entitled to protection under disability antidiscrimination laws.
- October 2005 The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirms the grant of summary judgment for the employer on the basis that plaintiff did not suffer an adverse employment action. The court does not reach the issues addressed in Lambda Legal’s friend-of-the-court brief.
Alphonso David, Brian Chase, Jon Givner