U.S. State Department Illegally Discriminates Against Foreign Service Applicants with HIV, Lambda Legal Will Argue at Federal Court Hearing Friday

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Experts on HIV line up to support a sensible approach for hiring practices for Foreign Service workers
February 24, 2005

(Washington, D.C., February 24, 2005) — The United States Department of State illegally prohibits anyone with HIV from being hired as a Foreign Service Officer, regardless of the applicant's qualifications or health status, Lambda Legal will argue in federal court Friday. In Lambda Legal's federal lawsuit seeking to remove the ban on Foreign Service applicants with HIV, leading health experts have filed papers supporting a medically justified approach for assessing Foreign Service applicants. 


Lambda Legal represents Lorenzo Taylor, who speaks three languages, holds a Foreign Service degree from Georgetown University and easily passed the tough entrance exams required to be a Foreign Service Officer — but who was rejected by the State Department because he has HIV. Taylor, a 48-year-old federal government employee who lives in the Washington, DC, area, appealed that decision, saying his HIV is a completely manageable condition, but he was again rejected.  Lambda Legal filed an administrative complaint on his behalf with the State Department two years ago, but that was denied as well. In September 2003, Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Taylor. A federal judge in Washington, DC, will hear arguments in the case Friday.


Lambda Legal charges that the State Department is violating the federal Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits the federal government from discriminating against people with disabilities. Since 1986, when the State Department initially adopted this policy, the agency has been clear and consistent that people with HIV will not be allowed to work in the Foreign Service. A 1992 Department Procedures Memo noted that "[a]pplicants testing positive for HIV will be medically disqualified" for employment.  In a media release dated August 23, 2001, the Department said  "pre-employment HIV testing is still required" for all Foreign Service applicants and that "those testing positive [for HIV] are not offered employment in the Foreign Service." More recently, in April 2003, another memo signed by the Director General of the Foreign Service was titled, "Why HIV Positive Individuals Are Not Eligible to Join the Foreign Service." 


Lambda Legal said the policy clearly violates federal law.  "Lorenzo Taylor is extraordinarily qualified to do this work, and he wants to serve his country.  But simply because he has HIV, the federal government won't even evaluate his qualifications or health status," said Jonathan Givner, Lambda Legal's HIV Project Director.   "The State Department's ban on people with HIV in the Foreign Service isn't just bad policy – it's also illegal." 


In papers filed last month supporting Taylor's case, respected health experts said people with HIV should not be ruled out from global travel and foreign work assignments simply because of their HIV status.  Extensive evidence submitted to the court shows that because of the rapid rise in availability of HIV care in developing nations in recent years, physicians qualified to monitor and treat HIV-positive patients are now available at more than 95 percent of the State Department's 263 overseas posts.


Taylor, who has been living with HIV for 19 years, has never had long-term illnesses or opportunistic infections.  His medical needs are limited to two or three routine check-ups a year and a regular regimen of prescription medication taken twice daily. The doctor he has been seeing for 15 years says he is in "excellent" health.


Several thousand Americans are Foreign Service Officers, 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. 


Foreign Service Officers who test positive for HIV while they're already employed are allowed to keep their jobs, which Lambda Legal says clearly demonstrates that the State Department 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.  The State Department already assesses some people with HIV based on their individual health status and treats them fairly – that's all we're asking for Lorenzo Taylor and other qualified applicants," Givner said.


Lambda Legal's HIV 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 whose rights under state and federal disability discrimination laws were violated by employers, businesses and public accommodations. 


Both Taylor and Givner will be available for media interviews on the courthouse steps directly after the argument.


Givner is Lambda Legal's lead attorney for Lorenzo Taylor v. Colin Powell.  Leslie Hill, Elizabeth Leise and Kathleen Behan of Arnold & Porter, LLP in Washington, DC are Lambda Legal's co-counsel in the case.


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 Contact: Tika Milan 212.809.8585 ext. 223; C: 716.446.3122; E: tmilan@lambdalegal.org


Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work

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