Metro Weekly

Texas health center settles lawsuit with fired HIV-positive employee

Granite Mesa Health Center has agreed to pay out $70,000 and institute ADA and HIV competency training

Nursing assistants – Photo: Truckee Meadows Community College, via Wikimedia.

A federal judge in Texas has approved a settlement between a health center and a certified nursing assistant who was fired from his position because he disclosed he had HIV.

Under the settlement, the new owners of Granite Mesa Health Center in Marble Falls, Texas — who purchased the facility after the firing — agreed to pay Michael Janssen $70,000 and to conduct on-site training regarding an employer’s obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The settlement also requires Granite Mesa to reiterate its policy against discrimination, provide training on HIV and disability-based discrimination, and put a process in place that allows employees to report discriminatory incidents.

“We are very happy to have reached this favorable settlement for Michael, and are grateful that Granite Mesa’s new owners worked proactively with us to achieve this resolution,” Paul Castillo, a senior attorney with Lambda Legal, which is representing Janssen, said in a statement. “Granite Mesa should have never fired Michael for being HIV-positive, and the facility’s new owners quickly agreed to settle the case. Lambda Legal will continue to fight to ensure HIV-positive health care workers are protected in the workplace.”

Janssen, a nursing assistant at Granite Mesa, had worked there for about a year before his firing in September 2013. He notified the Director of Nursing at the center that he had tested positive for HIV. The following day, an administrator demanded to know his viral load and CD4 white blood cell count, citing so-called “company policy.” The next day, when Janssen asked to see a copy of the health center’s policy regarding HIV-positive employees, he was fired.

Janssen subsequently contacted Lambda Legal, which filed a complaint on his behalf with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In August 2015, the EEOC issued a ruling finding there was probable cause that Janssen had been discriminated against and unlawfully terminated from his job.

Last year, the EEOC filed a lawsuit against Granite Mesa on Janssen’s behalf, charging that the health center had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by firing him and asking for personal medical information that was not pertinent to his ability to do the job.

“As nurses living with HIV in general do not pose a risk of HIV transmission to their patients, a certified nursing assistant such as Michael — who performs basic nursing duties such as feeding, bathing, toileting and ambulatory assistance — certainly does not present any risk of transmission to the people for whom he cares,” said Castillo. “Granite Mesa’s previous owners caved in to the fear and ignorance surrounding HIV and unlawfully fired Michael. They should have known better.”

Janssen said that he was happy with the resolution. 

“I was and still am completely capable of performing all my work responsibilities. I posed no threat,” he said in a statement. “In fact, right after being fired, I was rehired as a nursing assistant by my previous employer, another assisted living facility, even though I told them I was living with HIV. My HIV status in no way affects my ability to do my job.”

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

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