Metro Weekly

Nashville Settles HIV Discrimination Lawsuit

The Metro Nashville government agreed to adopt policies allowing people with HIV to serve as police officers.

A Metropolitan Nashville Police Department vehicle – Photo: Jason Lawrence, via Wikimedia

The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County settled a lawsuit brought by Lambda Legal alleging that the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department’s hiring policies unfairly discriminated against people with HIV. 

The lawsuit claimed that the plaintiff, a 45-year-old decorated civil servant going by the pseudonym John Doe, had applied to work for the police department in 2020, and was initially offered a job.

However, the department later rescinded that offer after learning, during the Civil Service Medical Officer’s exam process, that Doe is living with HIV.

The department initially claimed that Doe was rejected because prospective police applicants for the department were required to “meet or exceed the medical standards set forth in the United States Army Induction Standards.” Under the Pentagon’s medical exam policies, people with HIV are barred from enlisting — a policy that Lambda Legal is currently challenging in a separate court case.

However, since 2022, the Pentagon has stopped discharging active-duty service members due to their HIV status.

That year, a Virginia federal judge ruled that the military could not discharge, refuse to commission, or categorically bar people with HIV from deploying, especially if they are asymptomatic and virally suppressed — making it highly unlikely that they can pass the virus to others.

Additionally, in 2022, Davidson County voters approved an amendment to Metro Nashville’s charter removing the requirement that police recruits abide by military fitness standards, instead allowing the Civil Service Commission to set its own requirements. 

Subsequently, in 2023, Doe, enlisting the help of Lambda Legal, sued the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, arguing that the Metro Nashville Police Department’s policies were not only discriminatory but violated federal law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As part of the settlement, the Metro Nashville government not only must provide Doe with monetary relief, but agrees to update and rewrite the city’s Civil Service Medical Examiner’s policies to make clear that people living with HIV are no longer categorically banned from serving as first responders or police officers.

“I feel vindicated,” Doe said following the settlement. “All I wanted to do was serve my state and protect its communities, so I’m glad the city is now recognizing that living with HIV is not an obstacle to performing those critical duties.

“On the contrary, thanks to medical advances, HIV is now treated like other lifelong conditions,” he added. “We can live healthy lives, be active members of society, and serve as first responders, police officers, parents, and any other job without any problem.”

The updates to the hiring policies include new language stipulating that any medical tests must occur after job seekers have been offered employment and that HIV and other conditions do not automatically disqualify applicants, as long as their condition does not threaten the health or safety of others.

That means that any applicant with HIV who is on antiretroviral medication and is undetectable would be eligible to serve.

Another update to CSME’s policies is that the office agreed to follow the most updated and latest scientific and medical information available. In the case of HIV, this means understanding that it is nearly statistically impossible for an applicant with an undetectable viral load to transmit HIV to others.

Finally, the agreement requires that CSME implement mandatory training, in collaboration with Vanderbilt University’s Medical Center, for staffers who review and approve job applications of prospective first responders and police officers.

To fulfill that requirement, Vanderbilt University must keep their training consistent with the most up-to-date science surround HIV, and must offer optional trainings on a semi-regular basis.

“Medicine has progressed by leaps and bounds, allowing people living with HIV to live normal lives, and there are no reasons why they cannot perform any job as anyone else today,” Jose Abrigo, Lambda Legal’s HIV Project Director and an attorney in the case, said in a statement. “We hope this settlement serves as a testament to the work we need to continue to do to remove stigma and discrimination and update laws to reflect modern science.”

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