Village of Westmont To Pay $125,000, Enact Broad Policy Changes To Settle HIV Discrimination Case
(Chicago, Thursday, May 29, 2003) - The Village of Westmont will pay $125,000 to a man who was denied a job in the police department, settling a lawsuit against the town for HIV discrimination, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund announced today.
“This settlement is a tremendous victory for people with HIV who continue to face discrimination in the workplace,” said Camilla Taylor, the Chicago-based Lambda Legal staff attorney who worked on the case. “Our client was denied a job regardless of how well he could perform the duties. This kind of HIV discrimination isn’t just illegal -- it keeps people from pursuing their professional dreams.” Richard Roe, a name selected to protect the plaintiff’s identity, is a quality police officer who wanted to continue his chosen career with a local police department in Illinois. From early on, he emerged as a clear favorite for the job in Westmont, a village of 25,000 west of Chicago. With his previous experience, he easily passed the initial screening requirements, including a physical ability test, a written exam and a psychological evaluation. But at the medical examination that the police department required prior to making offers of employment, Roe tested positive for HIV. A doctor, chosen by the police department, said Roe was fully able to do the job and that he did not pose a threat to others. Still, the department refused to hire him. In addition to the monetary portion of the settlement, police commissioners will undergo annual training for the next three years on HIV-related issues, both on how HIV is transmitted and legal issues relating to employment. Westmont officials also agreed to stop using pre-employment medical exams or screenings, and not ask whether applicants have tested positive for HIV. The police department has agreed to a non-discrimination policy for applicants or employees based on their HIV status and will notify all employees that this policy has been adopted. “This victory sends a clear signal to employers that they can’t discriminate against people with HIV -- including in professions that involve more physical activity,” said Hayley Gorenberg, Lambda Legal’s AIDS Project Director. “At our Help Desk in Chicago and all of Lambda Legal’s offices around the country, we hear from people in public safety or health jobs who are denied employment or reassigned to different duties because they have HIV. The law is clear that this discrimination is illegal and runs counter to sound scientific evidence.” Volumes of medical and scientific evidence confirm that individuals with HIV are fully able to perform jobs -- including law enforcement responsibilities -- without posing any safety threat. Yet many employers, like the Westmont police department, continue to require unlawful pre-employment medical examinations and discriminate against applicants who test positive for HIV. Heather Sawyer was Lambda Legal’s lead attorney on the case along with cooperating attorney and Lambda Legal board member Cindy Hyndman of Robinson Curley & Clayton, P.C. in Chicago. Luis Vera of the AIDS Legal Council of Chicago was co-counsel. The case was filed in federal court for the Northern District of Illinois on October 9, 2002.
Contact: Fred Shank, 212/809-8585 ext. 267