Associated Press - January 24, 2012
ATLANTA, (AP) - A former investigator with the city of Los
Angeles claims Atlanta police rejected his job application solely
because he has HIV, a decision he said breaks the law and
perpetuates stereotypes about people with the virus.
Atlanta police argue hiring the man poses a threat to the health
and safety of the public, setting up a legal fight that is being
followed closely by gay rights groups and police agencies.
A federal appeals court is scheduled to hear arguments in the
case Wednesday, and judges will have the chance to pepper both
sides with questions.
"It's shocking and frustrating and very saddening that in 2012
this is still going on," said the 40-year-old man who sued the
city of Atlanta in 2010 under the pseudonym Richard Roe. "People
are living with HIV and, for the most part, they are living
normal lives and productive lives."
Roe spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity
because he believes his medical condition could prevent him from
other job opportunities.
Roe's anonymous lawsuit mirrors a battle that has largely been
waged quietly, without high-profile protests or marches. Several
similar lawsuits have been dismissed by judges who sided with the
police departments, or the cases were settled out of court, the
agreements kept confidential.
A lower judge sided with the city of Atlanta in November 2010 and
threw out the lawsuit, ruling that Roe failed to prove he didn't
pose a "direct threat" to the health and safety of others. Roe
appealed the decision.
Atlanta attorneys said in court documents Roe didn't disclose his
condition and warned he couldn't perform "essential functions" of
an officer. The police department and city officials have refused
to comment beyond court filings.
Roe said he was a criminal investigator with the city of Los
Angeles, though he did not work with the police department. He
discovered he had HIV in 1997 but said it didn't hinder his
ability to perform his duties. He said his infection never came
up with the city.
He moved to Atlanta to find a better job, and in January 2006
began the lengthy process to join the city's police force. He
passed a written test, a psychological exam, computerized voice
stress analysis and a background check. The roadblock came after
a blood test during a physical revealed he had the virus that
causes AIDS, his lawsuit said. The doctor did not do any further
Roe said the physician, Dr. Alton Greene, told him Atlanta police
had a policy of refusing to hire officers with the virus. Roe
said the doctor's statement violates the Americans with
Disabilities Act, which he said prevents employers from
dismissing anyone because they have HIV.
The city said they do not systematically reject job applicants
because of HIV, but instead they look at each individual on a
In Roe's case, the city said, the doctor recommended that he have
"no physical contact or involvement with individuals."
Catherine Hanssens, executive director of the Center for HIV Law
and Policy, said the Roe case centers on the "belief that, 30
years into the epidemic, HIV is easily transmitted and results in
a death sentence when it is transmitted."
"And neither of those are remotely close to the truth," she said.
Nurses, paramedics and other first responders with HIV have faced
similar challenges over the years by employers, said Hanssens,
but she said legal fights in those professions don't often
surface much anymore because decades of litigation and medical
research shows those with HIV can work in higher-risk fields.
Scott Schoettes of Lambda Legal, the gay rights group that
represents Roe, said the city will not be able to show that
someone with HIV presents a public threat.
"And maybe other departments will realize that they should create
a policy that explicitly says HIV should not disqualify you from
getting a job," he said.
Police departments often don't have a policy about whether to
hire an officer with HIV, and those that do are loath to
advertise the decision to protect the privacy of their officers.
Darrel Stephens, the executive director of the Major Cities
Chiefs Association, said his group has no guidelines for members
on how to treat applicants with HIV. The Fraternal Order of
Police also doesn't have a policy, but president Chuck Canterbury
said his group argues that officers with the virus should be
protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Roe, who is in school studying criminal justice, said he's waging
the legal battle because he wants to serve the city.
"Because of my desire to serve my community, I wouldn't want to
be anywhere but out in the public," he said. "Making the streets
safer for the underdog is one of the most rewarding things I can