Roe v. City of Atlanta
Lambda Legal represents a 39-year-old Georgia man living with HIV who applied to be a police officer with the Atlanta Police Department (APD) in early 2006. He is proceeding under the pseudonym "Richard Roe" to protect his privacy. During a pre-employment medical exam, the APD learned that Roe is 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, alleging violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the federal Rehabilitation Act.
After maintaining that it did not consider HIV to be a disqualifying condition for the position of police officer, the city of Atlanta reversed course on summary judgment and contended that Roe could not show he was qualified to perform the job, because it believed 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, nor did it identify any part of the job Roe could not perform as a result of his HIV. 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 is not a direct threat to others while serving in this capacity.
In July 2011, Lambda Legal filed its opening brief on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Among other things, Lambda argued that Roe presented sufficient evidence to carry any burden he has to show 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. Lambda Legal also asked the Eleventh Circuit to overrule earlier cases and to place the burden on the employer to show that the applicant would present a threat to the health or safety of others, as do most of the other Circuit Courts of Appeals, rather than on the applicant to show that his employment would not present such a threat.
- September 2008 Roe files complaint in District Court against City of Atlanta.
- July 2010 District Court rules on summary judgment in favor of City of Atlanta.
- July 2011 Lambda Legal files appeal in the Eleventh Circuit on Roe's behalf.
- February 2012 Eleventh Circuit reverses district court ruling on summary judgment, agreeing that the district court did not give sufficient consideration to the City of Atlanta’s admissions regarding the employability of HIV-positive individuals as police officers, and remands case for further proceedings.
- August 2012 Lambda Legal’s client accepts the City of Atlanta’s offer to settle the lawsuit for $250,000.
Scott A. Schoettes, Gregory R. Nevins