Lambda Helps Fight for Protection for Employees with HIV
February 24 Argument in California case takes on the right to work with a disability
(LOS ANGELES, February 23, 1998) -- Argument in California appeals court will take place Tuesday, February 24, in a case that challenges a ruling that a person who seeks disability payments after losing his job may not contest the firing as discriminatory.
Lambda is asserting that the law is not meant to force those with HIV into a "Catch-22" of having to forego disability benefits to which they are entitled in order to be allowed to fight to get back their jobs.
"This case and a number of others across the country will have a critical impact on the lives of more and more people with HIV and AIDS," said Myron Quon, staff attorney for Lambda and co-author of Lambda's brief in the case, Bell v. Wells Fargo. "Laws that prohibit discrimination based on disability aim to allow people to keep their jobs and contribute to their maximum capacity."
Andrew Bell is an HIV-positive man who was able to keep his job and protect his health for over two years because Wells Fargo Bank permitted him to work four ten-hour days per week, one from home via telecommunication. While working under these accommodations, Bell was promoted from bank examiner to vice president. He also received favorable evaluations throughout his tenure.
New management revoked the arrangement - which Bell asserts was needed as a reasonable accommodation of his HIV-related illness - and he was unable to continue holding his job. Bell filed suit against Wells Fargo Bank under California's Fair Employment and Housing Act. His claim is that the accommodation was required and its revoking was disability discrimination which caused him to lose his job, necessitating his going on disability insurance to survive.
Wells Fargo Bank persuaded the trial court to dismiss Bell's claim based on the assertion that his receipt of disability benefits amounts to a concession that he could not do his job. The court invoked a doctrine called "judicial estoppel," intended to prevent litigants from taking contradictory positions in court. Lambda's friend-of-the-court brief, which it filed in the appeal, argues that the doctrine is entirely inappropriate under these circumstances.
"There is nothing inconsistent about Bell's seeking disability benefits while fighting to get back workplace accommodations and his job," said Catherine Hanssens, Lambda's AIDS project director. "He is disabled and can work if provided with simple accommodations which put no burden on Wells Fargo. The trial court preferred to close him out of the world of paid employment by locking him into that of disability insurance. That's contrary to the policy and intent of the law."
- WHAT: Argument in case defending workplace protections for people with HIV and other disabilities
WHO: Charles J. Wisch, Private Attorney; Myron D. Quon, Staff Attorney, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund
WHEN: Tuesday, February 24, 11 am PST
WHERE: Division 4, First Appellate District Court of Appeal of California, 303 Second St., South Tower, 4th Flr., San Francisco
Contact: Peg Byron, 212-809-8585, ext. 230, 888-987-1984 (pager)