The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the 10th circuit U.S. court of appeals in a discrimination case brought by an HIV-positive health worker that says the worker posed no health risk on the job. The phlebotomist, John Couture, was fired by Colorado's Bonfils Memorial Blood Center after he informed his employer he was HIV-positive. Couture revealed his HIV status after he was informed that members of his blood collection training class would practice on one another to learn to draw blood, and he was concerned that one of his colleagues might come into contact with his blood. The blood center fired him from his position but allowed him to apply for an inferior position in the center's production department.
According to the brief filed by the ACLU, Bonfils Memorial Blood Center violated Couture's rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act by illegally firing him even though the medical evidence shows that he was not a legitimate risk to blood donors. The law is clear that mere unsubstantiated guesswork that others may be at risk of infection is insufficient to justify a firing. The brief points out that although more than 8 million people give blood each year, no one has ever been infected with HIV by giving blood. The brief concludes that the risk of becoming infected by an HIV-positive phlebotomist when donating blood would be far, far less than one-in-a-million. "Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations show that HIV-positive phlebotomists are no risk to blood donors," said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU of Colorado.
In addition to the ACLU, the brief was submitted on behalf of AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth, and Families; Association of Nurses in AIDS Care; Boulder County AIDS Project; Northern Colorado AIDS Project; and the Whitman-Walker Clinic. Lambda Legal, the American Academy of HIV Medicine, the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care, the National Association of People With AIDS, Western Colorado AIDS Project, and Women's Lighthouse Project are also filing a friend-of-the-court brief urging the court to hold that the ADA protects people with HIV from discrimination.
"It's disgraceful that medical professionals who know perfectly well that this employee posed no real risk to blood donors chose to fire a good employee out of fear of public prejudice," said Rose Saxe, a staff attorney with the ACLU's AIDS Project. "HIV-positive people need to be able to make a living and support themselves just like everyone else, and their livelihood shouldn't be at the mercy of irrational stereotypes."