Metro Weekly

Louisiana sheriff’s office accused of discriminating against deputy with HIV

Lawsuit claims the Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office rescinded a job offer after finding out job applicant was HIV-positive

Downtown New Iberia, La. – Photo: jc.winkler, via Wikimedia.

A Louisiana man is suing a local sheriff’s office for discrimination after it rescinded a job offer to be a sheriff’s deputy because he is living with HIV.

In 2012, William “Liam” Pierce applied for a position with the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office as a deputy. Shortly after his in-person interview, a captain informed him that he would be hired. However, after Pierce completed a medical examination that noted his HIV-positive status, the job offer was rescinded.

Pierce then filed a charge of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 2016, after investigating Pierce’s claim, the EEOC issued a Determination of Probable Cause, finding that the evidence supported Pierce’s claim that the sheriff’s office discriminated against him.

“When I was offered the job, I was so excited because I would be helping people and that is what I love to do,” Pierce said in a statement. “A job in service to the community has been at the center of my life for as long as I can remember, so when the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office took the job offer back, I was just devastated. It was a punch to the gut. I couldn’t believe it.”

Pierce’s qualifications for the job were never in question, given his experience working as a first-responder in various capacities, including as a paramedic, volunteer firefighter, and police officer, throughout his career. Pierce first came to Louisiana in 2005 to help with relief efforts in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina. Afterwards, he decided to stay in the state and put down roots.

“It’s just not right that good, hard-working people are turned away from jobs they are qualified to do because of sheer ignorance,” Pierce said. “My hope is that what happened to me doesn’t happen to anyone else. The Iberia Parish Sheriff and his office need to learn about HIV and understand that it does not disqualify me from doing this job or any other.”

Lambda Legal, which is representing Pierce, has asked the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana to reinstate Pierce as a deputy and award him lost wages, bonuses, benefits and other compensation to which he was entitled in that position, damages for emotional pain and suffering. The lawsuit also asks the court to prevent the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office from denying employment to other HIV-positive people, and include protections for people living with HIV in their equal employment policy.

“Mr. Pierce has dedicated his life to helping people in need and he has done it admirably. The Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office made a job offer to him because he was experienced and well-suited for the job, but then took it back because he is living with HIV,” Kenneth Upton, Jr., senior counsel at Lambda Legal, said in a statement. “Hiring should be based on a candidate’s qualifications to do the job, not unfounded fears about HIV. This is illegal discrimination plain and simple.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com