The couple had recently moved to the small Pennsylvania town, where one of them had grown up. They were eager to plant hometown roots and prepare to be married. Both had gotten jobs in May 2016 at a country club restaurant, one as a chef. Sadly, everything fell apart quickly.
On their first day at work, the couple prepared a meal to follow the funeral of a country club member. The employer and guests praised them for their effort. When they arrived for work on their second day, the chef was told he was fired because his employer had learned he had HIV.
The chef’s fiancé, who does not have HIV, was initially allowed to keep his job, but his hours were steadily reduced until he was fired a few weeks later.
“They were incredulous,” said Adrian M. Lowe, a staff attorney at the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania. “They’d heard stories about this kind of stigma, but they’d never experienced it.”
Federal and state laws clearly prohibit discrimination against people with HIV and AIDS. The protection also extends to those who are regarded as having HIV and AIDS and to those who associate with people living with HIV and AIDS. Further, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have long recognized that food handlers with HIV do not present a risk of HIV transmission to co-workers or consumers.
The first step the AIDS Law Project takes in these kinds of cases is to send a letter to the employer explaining the law and medical science concerning HIV and requesting an informal resolution of the matter.
If that doesn’t work, complaints can be filed with various state and federal agencies or the matter can be taken to court.
Although both the science and the law concerning HIV and AIDS have long been established, the AIDS Law Project handled 189 discrimination cases in 2016.
In this case, the restaurant responded quickly to the letter and a settlement including undisclosed financial compensation was reached.
The settlement covered both the chef and his fiancé, who was also targeted because of his association with a person with HIV.
As a result of the incident, the couple was unemployed and unable to find work. They were forced to leave their small town and move out-of-state for jobs in their field. With this case behind them, they are once again planting seeds and planning a wedding.
In addition to Adrian, the AIDS Law Project’s executive director, Ronda B. Goldfein, of counsel Sarah Schalman-Bergen and summer associate Imani Hudson-Hill, Temple University Beasley School of Law, worked on the case.