Atlanta finally settles shameful HIV bias lawsuit

The City of Atlanta is cutting a $250,000 check to finally settle a four-year-old lawsuit alleging that it wouldn’t hire a police recruit because he’s HIV positive and that city doctors violated his privacy.

Lambda Legal announced the settlement on Wednesday, capping a four-year legal fight that started when gay Atlanta attorney Steve Koval sued the city on behalf of the now 40-year-old Georgia man, who has remained anonymous throughout the legal proceedings. The man applied to be an officer with the Atlanta Police Department in 2006.

“Actions speak louder than words,” Koval says in a press release from Lambda Legal. “Throughout this litigation, the City claimed it had not discriminated against our client based on his HIV status, but this settlement shows otherwise. Let’s hope the City takes the additional steps necessary to ensure it doesn’t ever again have to spend taxpayer dollars to defend its discriminatory conduct.”

In February, the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals punted the case back to U.S. District Court Judge Marvin Shoob, who originally granted a summary judgment in the city’s favor. During the appeal, the city argued that it did not consider HIV to be a disqualifying condition for police officers. Yet in 2006, a doctor who performed physicals for Atlanta police returned his medical file to the department with this statement: “Officer cannot have contact with the public” and his application was dismissed.

In earlier arguments in the case, city attorneys maintained that the plaintiff could not show he was qualified to perform the job, adding that a police officer who is HIV-positive is a “direct threat” to the health and safety of others.

Mediation efforts in the case failed in June and a status conference set for early July was delayed.

“We are pleased with this resolution and expect that the City of Atlanta will never let this happen again,” Scott Schoettes, Lambda’s HIV project director, says in a prepared statement. “People with HIV are working in law enforcement all across this country, and there is no reason their service should not be welcomed and encouraged by the Atlanta Police Department.”

Attorneys for the man linked the case to lawsuits filed over the botched raid of the Eagle in 2009. Lambda assisted in those legal efforts, which dragged out for more than a year under the administration of Mayor Kasim Reed. The cost? Nearly $2.7 million and a lengthy trickle of documents showing in embarrassing detail Atlanta police officers with anti-gay bents worked on the case, how officers stymied the probe, how city jail employees bungled the arrests of the Eagle 8 and how city attorneys misstepped throughout the case.

“We are glad that the City of Atlanta has moved to right its wrong,” Greg Nevins, Lambda’s supervising senior staff attorney in Atlanta, says in the press release. Nevins also served as co-counsel in one of the Eagle raid lawsuits.

“We expect that the City, after paying out settlements in both the Eagle raid case and now this case, has learned to avoid the unnecessary costs of failing to treat LGBT people and those living with HIV fairly and appropriately,” he adds.

The lawsuit asked for the city to be restrained from refusing to employ HIV-positive people and sought damages for the “humiliation and mental anguish” the ordeal caused the plaintiff. The settlement announced Wednesday must still gain approval from the City Council and Reed.

Credit: Project Q Atlanta


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