Chicago Board of Ed Agrees to Settle with HIV-Positive Teacher Applicant

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Lambda had sued third largest school district for applicant forced to disclose health status
October 21, 1997

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday 21 October 1997 Contact: Peg Byron, 212-809-8585 x230, 888-987-1984 (pager); Catherine Hanssens, 212-809- 8585; Heather Sawyer 312-663-4413

(CHICAGO, October 22, 1997) Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund announced Tuesday that it won important policy changes in the Chicago public school system with the settlement of a lawsuit that challenged illegal screening of teacher applicants for HIV and AIDS.

Lambda brought the suit on behalf of a prospective teacher whose application was not processed after he was forced to disclose he had HIV.

The Chicago Board of Education has now agreed, among other things, that it will not screen teaching applicants for HIV; will cease all medical screening of applicants except that required of those offered teaching positions to detect contagious disease, such as tuberculosis that can be spread in a normal classroom situation; and will change its procedures for maintaining medical records in order to ensure confidentiality.

Heather C. Sawyer, AIDS Project Staff Attorney for Lambda's Midwest Regional Office in Chicago, said, "This settlement opens a door to employment for this applicant and ensures that it will remain open for many others with disabilities." She added, "Finally, Chicago's school board will be setting a good example for schools and other employers around the country."

Catherine Hanssens, AIDS Project Director in Lambda's New York-based headquarters, said, "This settlement provides an important lesson: Illegal discrimination will not go unnoticed and unpunished. The Chicago Board of Education has done the right thing in fixing its AIDS-related employment policies, especially as an institution that should promote fairness through public education."

Lambda was co-counsel in the case with Cynthia H. Hyndman, partner in the Chicago law firm Robinson Curley & Clayton, P.C., and a member of Lambda's board of directors.

Lambda brought Doe v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago on behalf of an anonymous applicant, identified as John Doe, who said he was "extremely pleased" with the settlement. In a statement issued through Lambda, he added, "I look forward to being considered for a teaching job in Chicago schools based upon my qualifications and ability and not because of the Board's offensive belief that someone with a disability should be barred from the classroom."

Despite having a general teaching certificate, two advanced degrees, and teaching experience, Doe was never even interviewed for either permanent or substitute teaching positions after the Board required him to undergo a medical exam and provide an extensive medical history in April 1995. Doe is infected with HIV but is in good health.

Lambda filed a complaint earlier this year in federal district court in Chicago, charging that the Board of Education discriminates against job applicants who have HIV or any other disability in violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, constitutional rights to privacy and equal protection, and also a written mayoral directive against requiring city workers or applicants to divulge their HIV status.

For more than a year, Lambda had advised the Chicago school board that its employment screening policy was discriminatory. However, the institution persisted in requiring potential employees to reveal personal medical information.

Lambda Legal Director Beatrice Dohrn said, "This settlement teaches an important lesson in Chicago employers cannot discriminate against qualified workers with HIV or any other disability. The whole country can learn now from the Board of Education's example."

Now approaching its 25th anniversary, Lambda is the nation's leading legal organization defending the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV and AIDS. With its national headquarters in New York, Lambda has a Midwest Regional Office in Chicago, a Western Regional Office in Los Angeles, and a Southern Regional Office in Atlanta.

(Doe v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, Case No. 97 C 2167)

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