LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Town of Clarksville has been accused of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), according to a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department Monday.
The lawsuit claims that, in 2015, the town's police department took away a job offer from a "qualified officer" because of his HIV diagnosis. The man, who is not named in the press release or the suit, worked for the police department as a volunteer reserve officer for more than a year before the department offered him a full-time position.
According to the suit, the job offer was contingent on the man passing a state-mandated medical exam prescribed by the Indiana Public Retirement System. During the exam, the man told the medical examiner that he was going through treatments for HIV.
The examiner noted that the man had "no long-term evidence of active disease" but advised the police chief to take back the job offer "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 lawsuit says.
After the examination, the man received a letter from the Clarksville Metropolitan Board of Fire, Police and Safety Commissions that he did not pass the medical test, so the job offer was rescinded and his current position as a reserve officer had been terminated, the suit says.
The lawsuit claims the man spent the next 15 months appealing his termination. Eight months after the incident, the department acknowledged that he was still qualified to act as a police officer and put him back on the "hiring list." However, the suit says he was never rehired and he eventually took a job with another police department.
According to the suit, the situation caused the man to have a gap in his work history that is "difficult to explain."
“No qualified individual should lose a hard-earned career opportunity because of misguided views about their disability that are not supported by medicine or science,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
The lawsuit alleges the department is violating Title I of the ADA, which states that employers are not allowed to discriminate against a qualified individual because of a disability - including withdrawing a job offer to someone based on "unsupported and stereotypical views of the applicant's disability."
In the suit, attorneys are calling for the Town of Clarksville to reevaluate its hiring policies and retrain everyone involved in the hiring process to avoid future Title I violations. In addition, attorneys want the police department to rehire the man with full seniority and benefits as if he had never been terminated.
In the release, U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Myers for the Southern District of Indiana said people living with HIV "are entitled to the full protection of our anti-discrimination laws."
Attorneys filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.
Kevin Baity, the Town Manager for the Town of Clarksville issued the following statement after the lawsuit was filed:
“Today the Town of Clarksville learned of a lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice against the Town of Clarksville regarding an American with Disabilities Act complaint. The Town of Clarksville has been aware of the complaint and has been working with the DOJ to resolve the matter. Despite the recently filed lawsuit, the Town of Clarksville will continue to work to find an amicable solution to the complaint.
The Town of Clarksville and the Clarksville Police Department will have no further comment on the lawsuit as it is a matter of pending litigation.”
The idea that everyone with HIV is at high risk of spreading the virus or endangering the public is a misconception that's lingered since the 1980s.
"It was a death sentence, it really was. But now we have developed medications that are so much better," Dr. Mark Burns said. The Infectious disease specialist from UofL told WHAS11 News that properly treated HIV has become more of a chronic disease like high blood pressure.
It's also a disability protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The man referenced in the DOJ lawsuit is one of the hundreds who test positive for HIV in Clark County each year, according to data from hiv.gov.
The County Health Officer tells me the vast majority of people who are HIV positive there are at low risk
"Honestly, as life goes on the side effects of the medication end up being the most dangerous for some of our HIV-positive patients," Dr. Eric Yazel said.
Experts like VOA Health Outreach and Prevention manager Valerie Farsetti point to the phrase U equals U.
"Undetectable equals un-transmittable so what that means is the viral load of the HIV virus in yourself is so low that it's next to impossible for you to transmit it to another person," Valerie Farsetti said. The Volunteers of America Mid-States Health Outreach and Prevention Services Program Director noted you can access HIV testing and information at 933 Goss Avenue location.