It takes a certain type of courageous person to protect and serve fellow citizens by donning a badge. But in Atlanta, strength of character doesn't matter if you have HIV.
An Atlanta man is moving forward with a federal lawsuit against the city after a U.S. district court ruled that he could possibly be a threat to others because of his HIV status. The man, going by the name Richard Roe to protect his identity, applied to be an officer for the Atlanta Police Department in 2006. He found out that he was HIV-positive during a pre-employment medical exam, according to Lambda Legal, the organization providing him with legal assistance. The doctor who administered the exam told Roe that the positive result disqualified him from joining the police department. The plaintiff then sued the department in 2008, citing antidiscrimination protections from two federal laws, the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.
Initially the city's lawyers argued that Roe's HIV was not considered to be a disqualifying condition for a police officer candidate. Later, however, the city's stance changed, and its attorneys argued that a police officer with HIV could present a 'direct threat to the health and safety of others.' But, according to Roe's attorneys, the city made its case without providing supporting evidence. Even so, the court ruled in the city's favor, saying Roe had not produced enough evidence to prove that his condition is not a threat to others.
Roe, 39, and his legal team filed an appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in July, as they await a hearing.
Greg Nevins, supervising senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal's southern regional office in Atlanta, and Scott Schoettes, Lambda Legal's HIV Project director, are handling the case. Nevins wrote in a reply brief in September, that the city of Atlanta's 'procedural game-playing of asserting HIV is not a disqualifying condition and then arguing it is, should not be countenanced by any court.'
Roe's attorneys are now arguing in their appeal that they provided enough evidence that he would not be a physical threat to others while serving on the force and that the city of Atlanta did not argue that Roe would not be a good police officer.
'The City of Atlanta is talking out of both sides of its mouth. They claim that having HIV doesn't prevent someone from becoming a police officer; then they walk into court and say that it does,' Nevins said in a statement in September, right after filing the brief. 'It was unfair for the district court to allow the Atlanta Police Department to get away with this, especially when the available science supports our client.'