A Michigan man says he was discriminated against and fired by his employer after he revealed his HIV-positive status to his supervisor.
James White, 26, is suing Great Expressions Dental Centers, which operates 150 dental centers in seven states, the Detroit News reports. He started working at one of their offices in Oakland County, Minn., as a patient coordinator in August 2008. Five months later, he was diagnosed with HIV, and told his supervisor. After a regional manager was notified that he had HIV, other employees were soon told to disinfect anything he touched, according to White's complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He was also told he couldn't return to work without a written note from his doctor declaring that he was not contagious.
White's schedule would often change, causing him to be marked as inexcusably tardy. When he would bring notes from doctors verifying that he was absent due to sickness, his absence was still marked as unexcused. By July 2009, he was fired on the phone after an extended hospitalization.
After a three-year investigation, the Detroit chapter of the EEOC ruled that White had been discriminated against, and that the company violated the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Poz magazine reports that White is seeking at least $140,000 in compensatory damages and $45,000 in punitive damages.
Richard Beckman, CEO of Great Expressions Dental Centers, told the Detroit News that no one from his company discriminated against White because of his HIV status. He added that they were "very sympathetic toward anybody who has HIV."
Representatives of the company have also filed a federal lawsuit this week to officially declare that it did not discriminate against White. According to them, White received five written warnings about his lateness and absence, and was late to work 51 times, and absent 16 days during his tenure.
After learning about White's predicament, University of Oklahoma student James Harris launched a petition on change.org, in support of the fired worker. However, he was met by a cease-and-decist letter Wednesday, and told to remove the petition, signed by 41,000 supporters, or face legal action from the dental chain. He took the petition down last week, but another one was launched in support of White.