City of Atlanta settles HIV police discrimination lawsuit for $250,000

A man who was denied employment with the Atlanta Police Department because he is HIV positive will receive a $250,000 settlement from the city.

“We are pleased with this resolution and expect that the city of Atlanta will never let this happen again,” said Scott Schoettes, HIV project director for Lambda Legal, the non-profit group that represented the anonymous plaintiff, identified in court records as “Richard Roe.”

“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,” Schoettes said in a press release announcing the settlement.

The settlement announcement today comes six months after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit sent the case back to the federal district court to resolve unaddressed issues.

Roe first applied to the APD in early 2006, but was denied employment due to his HIV status. According to Lambda Legal: “During a pre-employment medical exam, the APD learned that Roe was HIV-positive, and the doctor informed Roe that his HIV status disqualified him from becoming a police officer with the APD.”

Roe sued the city when he wasn’t hired. City lawyers first maintained that Atlanta did not have a policy against hiring police officers with HIV, then later claimed that his HIV status presented a “direct threat” to others.

“Actions speak louder than words,” said Steve Koval, who represented Roe early in the lawsuit and served as co-counsel with Lambda Legal as the case progressed. “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.”

The case was an additional black eye for the Atlanta Police Department as it also dealt with federal lawsuits stemming from the 2010 unconstitutional raid on the Atlanta Eagle, a gay bar. The city has paid nearly $3 million in settlements and investigation costs after patrons argued their rights were violated when they were searched without probable cause.

Lambda Legal attorney Greg Nevins said he hoped that with the two cases combined, the city has learned a costly lesson about anti-gay and anti-HIV discrimination. Nevins is senior supervising staff attorney at Lambda’s Atlanta-based southern regional office and served as co-counsel on the Eagle cases.

“We are glad that the city of Atlanta has moved to right its wrong,” Nevins said via press release. “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.”

Credit: GA Voice


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