Lambda Legal Files Discrimination Complaint on Behalf of Second Man Denied Foreign Service Job by U.S. State Department Because He Has HIV
(Washington, D.C., October 29, 2003) - Lambda Legal today filed a discrimination complaint on behalf of a second applicant who was rejected for a Foreign Service job by the U.S. State Department because he has HIV. The State Department is due to respond next week to a federal lawsuit Lambda Legal filed in early September on behalf of another applicant challenging the government’s policy of prohibiting anyone with HIV from being hired as a Foreign Service officer, regardless of the applicant’s qualifications or health status.
“The State Department is preventing qualified, healthy people from serving their country - all while there’s a severe shortage of Foreign Service applicants who are badly needed right now,” said Jonathan Givner, AIDS Project Staff Attorney for Lambda Legal in its New York City headquarters. “This isn’t just bad policy - it’s illegal.”
In today’s filing, Lambda Legal represents Kyle Smith, a college student in Columbus, Ohio, who applied to be a Foreign Service Office Management Specialist. After successfully completing the interview process, the 34-year-old applicant was approved for employment pending medical approval. After Smith’s doctor disclosed that Smith is HIV positive, the Foreign Service informed him that he did not qualify for medical clearance and wouldn’t be considered for employment.
Smith has been living with HIV for seven years, never experiencing any long-term illnesses or opportunistic infections. His T-cell count is on the level that rivals most HIV-negative individuals. Smith’s own doctor has said, “he is in excellent care and excellent health.” “Kyle Smith wants to serve his country and work overseas. He can do this job and do it well. But because he has HIV, none of that matters to the State Department,” Givner said.
On September 3, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf Lorenzo Taylor, a 47-year-old federal government employee who was denied a position as a Foreign Service officer because he has HIV. Taylor, who holds a Foreign Service degree from Georgetown University, easily passed the tough written and oral exams required to be a Foreign Service officer. He also is fluent in three languages. The State Department must file its reply to Lambda Legal’s complaint on behalf of Taylor next week. In today’s administrative complaint and last month’s lawsuit, Lambda Legal charges that the State Department is in violation of the federal Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits the federal government from discriminating against people with disabilities.
More than 10,000 Americans work in the Foreign Service, assigned by the State Department to serve in embassies, consulates and other diplomatic posts in 180 countries. The State Department prohibits the Foreign Service from hiring people with HIV in these positions, claiming that they may require medical treatment that isn’t available in some of the less-developed countries where they might be stationed. According to Lambda Legal, applicants should be assessed case-by-case to determine their individual medical status. Other than the military, the Foreign Service is the only type of federal employment where people with HIV are broadly blocked from consideration.
“I have been living with HIV, but it hasn’t stopped me from learning and living,” Smith said. “I’ve always been interested in learning as much as I can. When I thought I could work in the Foreign Service, I realized that the world could be my classroom.”
Just over a year ago, Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke passionately about the need for employers to stop discrimination against people with HIV and AIDS. “Corporate leaders can see to it that their managers implement fair employment practices to ensure there is no discrimination related to a person’s HIV status - no stigmatization. They are just like anyone else. This is one of those lessons we have to get to all employers and nations around the world…[U]nder President Bush’s leadership, this government will commit all of its resources, all of its energy, all of its leadership ability, to playing its part,” Powell said at an Open Forum Conference in Washington, D.C., in June 2002.
“The Secretary of State recognizes that HIV discrimination in the workplace is a problem around the country and the world, and these two cases show that it’s a growing problem in his own workplace,” Givner said. “And Secretary Powell is in a unique position to make real change occur. With one stroke of his pen, he can end HIV discrimination in the Foreign Service, bring the government into compliance with the law and follow through on his own promise of fairness.”
Since Foreign Service workers who test positive for HIV while they’re already employed are allowed to keep their jobs, Lambda Legal said the State Department clearly is equipped to address employees’ medical needs on a case-by-case basis. “There are people with HIV who are serving their country honorably and without any added hardship because of their medical status,” Givner said. “All we’re asking is that Kyle, Lorenzo and other applicants be judged as individuals and treated fairly.”
Lambda Legal’s AIDS Project has handled a number of cases on behalf of people who are denied employment because they have HIV or AIDS. In recent years, Lambda Legal has successfully fought on behalf of people with HIV or AIDS whose rights under state and federal disability discrimination laws were violated by employers, businesses and public accommodations.
Givner is Lambda Legal’s lead attorney for Matter of Kyle Smith. The administrative complaint was filed with the State Department’s Office of Civil Rights.
Contact: Fred Shank, 212-809-8585 x267