Originally published on Advocate.com November 25 2003 1:00 AM ET
San Francisco's Human Rights Commission on Friday opened an investigation into claims by a gay HIV-positive man that he was unjustly fired from his job at Cirque du Soleil because of his HIV serostatus, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Cirque fired gymnast Matthew Cusick, 32, in April just days before he was to begin performing in the company's Mystere show in Las Vegas. Company officials said Cusick, who had already gone through months of training and preparation for the aerial acrobatics job, was fired because he posed a threat of HIV infection to other company employees.
Cirque is currently leasing property owned by the Port of San Francisco to stage its Alegria show in the city. Because the company uses city-owned property, it must abide by city laws prohibiting job discrimination based on HIV status. The Human Rights Commission could levy fines against the company, terminate the current lease agreement, or even bar the company from a city contract for up to three years if it finds that Cirque discriminated against Cusick by wrongly firing him.
The commission contacted Cirque by letter on Friday, requesting the company's employment policies for people with HIV, the titles and descriptions of jobs for which individuals with HIV would not be hired, and any documents from medical authorities that recommended Cusick not be hired for the job. The commission set a December 2 deadline for the company to respond to its request. Cirque, headquartered in Montreal, did not respond to the Chronicle's telephone calls and e-mails for comment.
In July, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Cusick's behalf. Cusick participated with about 50 other activists Thursday in a protest outside Cirque's event in San Francisco. Similar protests are planned outside Cirque events in Los Angeles, New York City, Atlanta, and Orange County, Calif., in the coming weeks.