The man loved his work. His job was his identity.
At age 39, he was proud of the fact that he had worked steadily since he was 14. For those in his immediate circles, work was often intermittent and hard to come by. He was always “that guy who works.”
Furthermore, he believed his work at a residential facility for troubled youth was providing an invaluable service.
“He believed in work,” said Adrian M. Lowe, Esq., a staff attorney for the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania. “He liked helping young people get back on track.”
His life nose-dived the moment his employer found out he had HIV. First he was suspended. Then he was fired.
“They said, ‘We’re sorry to see you go, but state law says you can’t work here because you have an infectious disease,’” Adrian said.
“He kind of fell apart,” recalled Ronda B. Goldfein, Esq., executive director of the AIDS Law Project. “His work gave him meaning. It gave him context to his life. All of a sudden he feels he has no life and no future.”
The man knew about the AIDS Law Project from his social work, so gave us a call.
Unfortunately, it is a battle we have had to fight many times during the years. About 30 state licensing boards require workers to be free of infectious, contagious or communicable diseases. Some employers assumed that applied to HIV, which simply was not the case because it is not transmitted through casual contact in the workplace.
The AIDS Law Project led an initiative to clarify the law, and in 2011 the state issued new guidelines explicitly excluding diseases such as HIV.
By firing the man, the employer wound up on the wrong side of federal and state anti-discrimination law.
Part of our mission is to educate people, including employers, on all aspects of the law regarding HIV and AIDS. Our efforts appear to be bearing fruit.
When we contacted the employer’s lawyers, they quickly acknowledged that our client had been fired based on faulty advice about the law.
Our client, who had been out of work for about 26 weeks, got his job back in October, as well as back pay and compensatory damages.
And his identity and dignity were restored.
“He’s glad to be reclaiming who he was,” Ronda said. “He’s back on track.”