A leading Latino civil rights organization has sued banking giant JPMorgan Chase, alleging that the company discriminated against an employee because he’s HIV-positive — an example of how activist groups are increasingly recognizing “intersectional” discrimination.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund brought the suit on behalf of former JPMorgan Chase employee Jesus Leon in January, alleging that the company failed to make reasonable accommodations for Leon’s health, as required by the federal Americans With Disabilities Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. Eventually, according to the suit, Leon was forced to resign.
Leon, who was diagnosed as HIV-positive in 2004, began working for the company in June 2010 in Florida as vice president of global philanthropy, according to MALDEF, and in January 2012 he moved to Los Angeles to take a new position on Chase’s community development banking team. In July of that year, Leon’s doctor recommended that because of his health, he should work no more than 40 hours per week, and submitted a note to Chase officials to this effect.
However, the company continued to require him to work more than this, and at one point he experienced complications that led a fellow employee to call an ambulance for him, the suit states. Soon afterward, he submitted a complaint to the human resources department, but Chase still did not make the accommodations, according to the suit, which says he was forced to resign in August 2012.
The relevant Chase officials were aware of Leon’s HIV status, the suit states, and he was “at all times…fully qualified for his position and was performing his job duties well.”
This is not the first HIV discrimination case handled by MALDEF. In 2013 it reached an out-of-court settlement in a case involving an HIV-positive employee who lost his job at the Ivy, an upscale restaurant in Los Angeles, Saenz says.
“Our mission includes fighting against discrimination experienced by the Latino community, including multiple-basis discrimination, intersectional discrimination,” says Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel for MALDEF, adding that the group is “on the lookout” for more cases of multiple-basis discrimination.
Simply put, multiple-basis or intersectional discrimination recognizes that we all have many intersecting identities that make up who we are; they can include gender, race, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, and yes, health factors. And any or all of these identities can be the basis for discrimination.
“Our concern is that the Latino community, more than most, could be hurt by this multiple-basis discrimination,” says Saenz. While one characteristic could be the basis for overt discrimination, it’s also possible that others play into it; for instance, most employers these days would be careful to avoid any appearance of racial discrimination, he notes.
The suit seeks a trial by jury and punitive, compensatory, and other damages, plus reimbursement of legal costs. It was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, but has been moved to a federal venue, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, at JPMorgan Chase’s request, Saenz notes.
The banking company has yet to make any public comment on the suit. Leon, meanwhile, has found other employment in the industry, Saenz says.