The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decided this week that the HIV positive man who was denied employment as a Foreign Service Officer has “more than enough” evidence to take his case against the State Department to trial.
Judge Arthur Raymond Randolph shed some blame on US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice when he said: “The Secretary’s claim that granting Taylor Class 2 clearance is unreasonable and would impose undue hardship is suspect” because the State Department sometimes hires candidates with medical conditions other than HIV.
Judge Randolph goes on to explain that Taylor’s treating physician “testified that Taylor’s immune system is strong enough to enable him to serve throughout the world without increased risk of harm and that he needs medical monitoring only twice a year. This evidence is more than enough to create a genuine issue of material fact regarding the reasonableness of the proposed accommodation.”
“We are pleased to see that the Court sees through the faulty reasoning used by the State Department to substantiate this discriminatory and baseless policy,” said Jonathan Givner, HIV project director of Lambda Legal. “This ruling establishes that our client must have his day in court.”
Lambda Legal’s lawsuit, filed in late 2002, says the State Department’s policy violates the federal Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits the federal government from discriminating against people with disabilities. The lawsuit seeks a change in the outdated policy. In April 2005, federal district court Judge Rosemary Collyer issued an opinion in favour of the State Department saying that the government should not have to accommodate Taylor by letting him use some of his sick and vacation leave, available to all Foreign Service Officers, to travel to see his doctor.
Lambda Legal’s appeal argued that the Rehabilitation Act was designed to require employers to make reasonable accommodations on a case-by-case basis as long as the employee can fulfil the responsibilities of the job – which Taylor can. The question before the court was whether the case had disputed facts that must be heard by a jury rather than decided by a judge without a trial. In today’s decision, the Court of Appeals agreed with Lambda Legal’s arguments and sent the case to the U.S. District Court to proceed toward trial.
Currently, if Foreign Service Officers are diagnosed with HIV while on the job, reasonable accommodations are made for those employees to continue working. There is no evidence to suggest that this has caused any difficulties for the State Department.