Atlanta won’t end shameful HIV+ cop lawsuit
Efforts to settle a federal lawsuit accusing Atlanta police of discriminating against an HIV-positive applicant have failed, prolonging a four-year-old case that’s proving to be as shamefully embarrassing to Mayor Kasim Reed as his stubborn refusal to settle lawsuits over the botched Eagle raid.
Mediation efforts in the case, Richard Roe v. City of Atlanta, failed last month. Attorneys for the man, identified only by the pseudonym Richard Roe in court documents, and city attorneys were scheduled to meet Tuesday with U.S. District Court Judge Marvin Shoob. On Monday, that status conference was delayed for three weeks.
Gay Atlanta attorney Steve Koval filed the original lawsuit for Roe in 2008 and Lambda Legal attorneys are co-counsel. The lawsuit alleges that Atlanta police violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by denying employment to his client over his HIV status and also accuses doctors of violating his privacy by testing him for HIV without his knowledge or consent during the hiring process. The lawsuit asks for the city to be restrained from refusing to employ HIV-positive people and seeks damages for the “humiliation and mental anguish” the ordeal caused Roe.
Koval declined comment on the case. Robert Godfrey, an attorney for the city, could not be reached for comment Monday.
In February, the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals punted the case back to 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 Roe’s 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 Roe 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.
And that’s where the case – which started before Mayor Kasim Reed took office – has now become his embarrassment. Reed won election in 2009 with a lengthy track record of supporting LGBT issues. But like the legal drama with the Eagle case, he’s refused to step in and put the case behind him.
A stuborn Reed and the city started settling the lawsuits over the Eagle raid a year after the mayor took office. 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.
The Roe case has been around as long as Reed has been in office, yet the city won’t settle. The lawsuit already alleges that city violated federal law and invaded Roe’s privacy. What else will the trickle of legal discovery and other documents show? And like the Eagle case, Reed’s refusal to end the case is also keeping Atlanta police from revamping policies that should have prevented the alleged discrimination in the first place. End this case, Mr. Mayor, you’ve got same-sex marriage to wrestle with.
A change in police policy is where Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, wants to see action.
“The policies that are currently in place, if they have not been changed, are not strong enough to keep this from happening again,” Graham says. “These things should never even get to trial because if employers are doing the right thing, the discrimination will not happen in the first place. I think that is the position the city needs to be in and especially the police department. They need to be doing everything they can do to make sure this discrimination does not happen in the future.”
Graham adds that although Roe was denied a job under former Mayor Shirley Franklin, it’s time for Reed to bring this case to a close.
“It is a clear case of discrimination based on HIV status. There is no reason for that to be taking place,” Graham says.
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