DOJ Sues Town for Alleged Bias Over HIV-Positive Job Candidate

Federal prosecutors have brought a lawsuit against a town in southern Indiana alleging its police department illegally discriminated against an HIV-positive person seeking a job as an officer.

Civil rights attorneys with the U.S. Justice Department on Monday filed the complaint against the town of Clarksville, Indiana, alleging the unnamed man was qualified to serve as an officer, but police rescinded their employment offer after learning about his HIV status. The complaint accuses the town's police of violating a provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) protecting HIV-positive people.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, states that the unnamed person's HIV "is well-controlled with medication and his viral load is, and during all relevant times was, fully suppressed."

"[His] HIV does not present a significant risk to the health or safety of himself or others in the performance of his duties as a police officer," reads the complaint.

Picture of a Lawsuit
The Justice Department is suing a small town in Indiana for discriminating against a man over his HIV status. Above, a representation of a person filling out lawsuit paperwork. Ulf Wittrock/Getty Images

Before applying to become an officer, the man had been serving as a volunteer reserve officer in the town of 21,000 on the border with Kentucky, "successfully performing the essential duties of the job" for more than a year, according to the complaint.

The Clarksville Police Department in October 2015 offered the man a job that was conditional on him passing a state-required medical examination, according to the complaint. During the exam, the man told the medical examiner he was being treated for HIV and was taking prescribed antiretroviral medications, the complaint states.

The examiner noted the man was taking the medications and had "no long-term evidence of active disease" from his HIV as well as no other health issues, according to the complaint.

But the examiner told Clarksville's police chief the man didn't meet state medical standards because his HIV was a "communicable disease" that posed a "significant risk of substantial harm to the health and safety" of his colleagues and the public, the complaint states.

The examiner didn't include any "objective scientific or medical evidence in support of his opinion" and made no specific findings of how the man's HIV status would affect his ability to do the job, according to the complaint. Regardless, a town board overseeing hiring withdrew the employment offer and terminated him as a reserve police officer, the complaint states.

"The Town of Clarksville has been aware of the complaint and has been working with the DOJ to resolve the matter," Town Manager Kevin Baity told Newsweek in an email. "Despite the recently filed lawsuit, the Town of Clarksville will continue to work to find an amicable solution to the complaint."

Baity said the town and its police department would have no further comment, citing pending litigation.

The complaint states that the medical examiner's opinion "was at odds with objective evidence" that the man was physically capable of doing the job. The man tried for 15 months to appeal the decision before accepting a job elsewhere, according to the complaint.

"Clarksville's actions delayed the start of Complainant's career in law enforcement
and caused him significant emotional distress, including humiliation, depression, and anxiety, as well as other monetary and dignitary harms," reads the complaint. "Clarksville's actions cause Complainant continuing harm because his termination
leaves a gap in his law enforcement career record that is difficult to explain."

The man filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against the city in November 2015, which was later referred to the Department of Justice after conciliation failed.

Federal prosecutors say Clarksville officials violated Title I of the ADA by withdrawing the man's job offer because of his HIV status.

The complaint seeks a judgment finding the town violated federal disability protections. It also seeks to require the town to change its policies and ensure medical examiners and other personnel are properly trained.

Additionally, the complaint seeks to have the man reinstated as a police officer with seniority and retirement benefits as if he had been given the job, as well as compensation for emotional distress and other injuries.