Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Lee's Log Cabin, Inc.
To prove a discrimination claim under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a person must show that they have a medical condition which meets the law's definition of "disability." For someone with HIV, this is shown by the evidence of the impact on that person of having HIV, including, if applicable, the effects of being in an advanced stage of HIV disease. An individual discriminated against based on HIV does not need to prove that the employer knew how far her HIV infection has advanced.
Korrin Krause Stewart alleged she was denied employment because she has HIV, and evidence submitted to support the claim that she was discriminated against showed that she also had been diagnosed with AIDS. The federal district court dismissed her case and a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld that decision, on the basis that evidence of the disabling effects of AIDS on the applicant did not support the EEOC's claim that she had been discriminated against because she had HIV.
The courts' decisions misinterpreted the medical relationship between "HIV" and "AIDS" and treated them as two separate and distinct medical conditions. Lambda Legal filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of 11 HIV advocacy and service organizations. The brief explained the relationship between having HIV infection and having an AIDS diagnosis. It also explained the correct evidentiary burdens on an individual claiming she was discriminated against based on having HIV.
People living with HIV continue to experience discrimination because they have HIV, whether or not they have been diagnosed as having AIDS. Someone who has been diagnosed with AIDS need not prove that the discriminator — such as a potential employer — knew the medical details of the person's diagnosis when it discriminated against her.
Lambda Legal's Impact
Lambda Legal's brief clarified for the appellate court the legal relevance of evidence concerning the severity of an individual's HIV infection to a claim of HIV discrimination.
- October 2008 A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirms the federal district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Lee's Log Cabin. The panel rules that EEOC's claim that HIV discrimination occurred could not be supported with evidence of how having AIDS affected the applicant.
- November 2008 Lambda Legal files a friend-of-the-court brief in support of EEOC's petition for rehearing by the entire panel of the Seventh Circuit. Lambda Legal's brief explains the relationship between evidence of an individual's HIV infection and proof requirements of the ADA.
- February 2009 The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit denies the petition for rehearing, while clarifying that its decision stemmed from the procedural circumstances of this particular case.