A 40 year old firefighter in San Francisco has filed a claim with city officials, alleging that he was discriminated against and harassed at work after his coworkers learned he had tested positive for HIV. The man says that he does not know how or when he contracted HIV. He suspects that he contracted it after he was exposed in 2003 while working on ambulance duty. While treating a patient in the ambulance, he was splashed with blood.

After the man had worked on the department for five years, he fell ill and lost 100 pounds. He took time off work. In 2006, tests revealed that he was HIV positive. A year after he was diagnosed, his T-cell count improved, and he returned to work.

Upon returning to work, the news about his diagnosis had spread. The man says that his colleagues refused to let him cook in the firehouse, and made jokes that he was gay and had a male girlfriend. The firefighter also claimed that his superiors threatened him verbally and physically. The firefighter says the department cannot explain why he was no longer on duty, and that after he took a vacation last year he was not reassigned. According to the fire department, the man is still an employee, and he has not been discriminated against at work.

Under federal law and California law, individuals with disabilities have protections from discrimination and harassment in the workplace. They also have equal opportunity in the areas of public accommodations, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications. “Disabilities” are physical or mental impairments that limit one or more major life activities.

People who are HIV positive are protected by law, because HIV is a physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. This is true even if the person is not showing any symptoms of the disease. In addition, people who are discriminated against because people think they have HIV are also protected. For example, if in a job interview a potential employee looked ill and was very underweight, and disclosed that he was gay, and the employer assumed he was HIV positive and refused to hire him for that reason, that is illegal, even if the man was not HIV positive.

Some examples of illegal discrimination or harassment in the workplace against people with HIV include:

  • A company that fired an employee after learning he or she had HIV
  • A company that refused to promote an employee because it believed that he or she would be unreliable because of an AIDS diagnosis
  • A company that puts limits on insurance benefits for people with HIV, but not on other benefits,
  • A company that allows its employees to make rude jokes or comments about HIV or AIDS, or
  • A company that refuses to hire people with HIV.

As you can see, there are many different ways in which people who are HIV positive can be discriminated against in the workplace. If you believe that you have suffered discrimination or harassment in the workplace, you should speak to an employment law attorney. At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty believes that employees who discriminate against or harass an HIV positive employee should be held legally liable. If you are in the Oakland-San Francisco area, call Micha Star Liberty, Oakland disability discrimination attorney, at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000. She works closely with employees who have been illegally discriminated against or harassed at work. You may be entitled to money for back pay, benefits, emotional damages, and more. Call today to schedule your free consultation.

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