Lambda Legal to District Court: Rescinding Job Offer Due to HIV Status is Illegal Discrimination

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August 15, 2019
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Lambda Legal today urged a federal district court judge to find that Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when he rescinded a job offer for William “Liam” Pierce to serve as a sheriff’s deputy after learning that Pierce was a person living with HIV.

While U.S. District Court Judge Michael Juneau denied the motion because the Sheriff had not yet been deposed and some facts remain in dispute, he also expressed skepticism regarding the Sheriff’s prospects for proving the legality of the office’s conduct. The case now proceeds to trial, scheduled for January 6, 2020.

“After a background check and series of interviews, the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office offered Liam a job contingent solely on a medical evaluation,” Lambda Legal Counsel and HIV Project Director Scott Schoettes said. “And really, why wouldn’t they? Liam’s experience in health and public safety work made him a very strong candidate. But then, after the medical evaluation that informed the Sheriff of Liam’s HIV status, the job offer was immediately rescinded."

"It is illegal to send an applicant for a medical evaluation before that person has cleared all the other hurdles in the application process, and it is illegal to refuse to employ someone based on their HIV status," added Schoettes. "No matter how they try to justify the conduct, the Iberia Parish Sheriff withdrew the job offer directly after learning of Liam’s HIV status, and that’s illegal discrimination plain and simple. We look forward to making that case in court.”

In 2012, Liam Pierce, a life-long public servant in health and public safety, applied for a position as a Sheriff’s Deputy with the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office, a job for which he was and is fully qualified. Shortly after his in-person interview, a captain informed Pierce he would be hired. However, after Pierce completed a medical examination that noted his HIV status—but acknowledged that he was able to perform the job without accommodation—the job offer was rescinded. Pierce filed a charge of discrimination under the ADA with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) a few months later.

In 2016, after investigating Pierce’s claim, the EEOC issued a Determination of Probable Cause stating that the evidence supported Pierce’s claim against the Iberia Parish Sheriff. In October, 2017, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit on behalf of Pierce against the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s office in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. Today’s hearing involved oral argument on Lambda Legal’s motion for partial summary judgment.

Iberia Parish Sheriff Ackal has gained national notoriety during his more than 10 years as Iberia Parish sheriff, including dozens of allegations of rampant abuse of prisoners in his care. Although he was acquitted on criminal federal civil rights charges in 2016, he was kicked out of the state insurance pool that indemnifies Louisiana sheriffs – the Louisiana Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Program – shortly thereafter because he was costing the program too much in settlements of civil actions. The discrimination against Mr. Pierce based on his HIV status is further documentation of a Sheriff’s office that has a blatant disregard for the law.

Lambda Legal has a long history of fighting for LGBT employees and employees living with HIV who face discrimination at work, often in cooperation with the EEOC, including several recent cases on behalf of clients forced from their jobs or fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Lambda Legal is also currently fighting the Trump administration on behalf of U.S. military servicemembers living with HIV who are being prevented from serving or being unnecessarily restricted in their service based on their HIV status.

Liam Pierce has worked as a paramedic, volunteer firefighter, and police officer, among other volunteer and professional jobs as a first-responder. In 2005, Mr. Pierce left his life and job in Ohio to help with relief efforts in Louisiana in response to the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. He has been a resident of Louisiana ever since and continued his career in public safety serving as a paramedic and full-time police officer.

“I still remember how excited I was when I was told I had the job,” Pierce said. “I’d fallen in love with Louisiana after moving here in 2005, and I was so happy I was going to be able to continue to serve in law enforcement. I also still remember how devastated I was when the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office took the job offer back. It was a punch to the gut. I couldn’t believe it. I knew that my HIV status has no impact on my ability to do the job. It’s not right that good, hardworking people are turned away from jobs they are qualified to do just because of sheer ignorance. My hope is that what happened to me doesn’t happen to anyone else and that the Iberia Parish Sheriff learns about HIV and understands that it does not disqualify me from doing this job or any other.”

Handling the case for Lambda Legal are Scott A. Schoettes and Anthony Pinggera, joined by co-counsel J. Dalton Courson and Annie G. McBride of Stone Pigman.

Read about Lambda Legal’s efforts combatting the Trump administration’s unjustifiable restrictions on servicemembers with HIV here and here.