A Louisiana sheriff’s office has agreed to pay $90,000 to a police officer who was denied a job as a sheriff’s deputy because he is living with HIV, as part of a settlement reached between the sheriff’s office and the man’s lawyers.
William “Liam” Pierce applied for a job as a deputy with the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office in 2012. A former police officer for the Arnaudville and Abbeville Police Departments, he also had experience as a paramedic and volunteer firefighter, and had served as a first responder in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
After undergoing a background check, Pierce received an interview and was ultimately offered a job with the sheriff’s office. But when Pierce was undergoing a required pre-employment medical exam, he revealed to the doctor that he was HIV-positive.
The doctors who examined Pierce — who is taking antiretrovirals to keep his HIV in check — said he could safely perform his job duties without posing any risk to others.
However, following the medical exam, Pierce received a letter informing him that the sheriff’s office was rescinding its job offer.
The Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office later claimed that the reason Pierce was not hired was due to an incident — for which he was fired from the Abbeville Police — during which he discharged his firearm while he had two prisoners in custody. But Pierce said the sheriff’s office knew about the incident prior to extending the job offer.
In 2016, Pierce filed a charge of discrimination under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, which has provisions intended to protect HIV-positive people from being wrongfully terminated, with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The EEOC found probable cause to support Pierce’s claim that he had been discriminated against. Enlisting the help of Lambda Legal, Pierce sued Sheriff Louis Ackal and the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Last August, Lambda Legal submitted a motion urging a federal judge to find that the sheriff’s office had indeed violated the ADA when it rescinded its job offer. While the judge rejected the motion, he encouraged the sheriff’s office to settle the case.
Lambda Legal issued a statement celebrating its successful negotiations in reaching an agreement with the sheriff’s office.
“This settlement is a lesson to all employers across the country that HIV discrimination in the workplace is completely unlawful and has no place anywhere. Someone’s HIV status is absolutely irrelevant to their ability to safely perform a job, from the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office to the U.S. Air Force, and using it to deny employment or promotion is discrimination, pure and simple,” Scott Schoettes, counsel and HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal, said in a statement.
“This settlement should also serve as a wakeup call to states and cities across the country to remove once and for all outdated and stigmatizing HIV criminalization laws that perpetuate discrimination and ignore current medical science.”
In addition to paying $90,000 in damages to Pierce, the settlement requires the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office to adopt hiring policies that include an explicit statement that “discrimination on the basis of disability, including HIV status, is prohibited,” and post a public notice that advertises that policy.
The settlement also requires the office to conduct two separate two-hour-long mandatory training seminars, one dealing with ADA compliance and the other with HIV, transmission risks, stigma, and the effects of HIV discrimination.
A fourth provision of the settlement requires the sheriff’s office to add an HIV discrimination component in new-hire and annual civil rights/nondiscrimination training, including a statement that medical professionals contacted by the office have determined that a person living with HIV who has receive medical clearance from a medical professional — either prior to or during their term of employment — could safely perform the job as a sheriff’s deputy without special accommodations.
Lastly, the sheriff’s office agrees to pay Lambda Legal attorneys’ fees for its representation of Pierce.
“I immediately knew that the Sheriff’s decision not to hire me was based on my HIV status, and though it was a long journey, it feels good to finally be vindicated,” Pierce said in a statement. “I hope that my case helps others avoid going through my experience and demonstrates to other employers that living with HIV has nothing to do with our ability to do any job.”
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