U.S. district judge Rosemary M. Collyer has issued a ruling supporting the State Department's refusal to approve an HIV-positive man for Foreign Service, Lamdba Legal, who represents the man, reported this week. Lorenzo Taylor, a project officer for the Ryan White program at the Department of Health and Human Services, sought an overseas job through the Foreign Service, but was denied a position because of his HIV status, Taylor told The Advocate's sister publication HIV Plus. Taylor was summarily denied an overseas job because the State Department maintains a blanket policy against appointing HIV-positive people to overseas diplomatic posts.
The State Department says the rule, enacted in 1985, is in place to protect the health of foreign diplomats, who can be stationed in areas where access to doctors and anti-HIV treatment is severely limited. But Taylor, who has been HIV-positive for about 20 years and has had no HIV-related health complications, says he was told by department employees that his chances of being offered an overseas post were nil. "They mainly said, 'This is the policy, and this is the way things work in the Foreign Service--whether that's right or wrong,'" Taylor told HIV Plus.
Taylor is fluent in three languages, holds a Foreign Service degree from Georgetown University, and easily passed the rigorous application process required to be a Foreign Service officer. Lambda filed a complaint with the State Department in 2002 and brought Taylor's case to court in 2003.
A second HIV-positive Foreign Service applicant, Kyle Smith, was similarly denied employment in November 2002 and has filed a legal challenge against the State Department's HIV policy.
Jonathan Givner, a Lambda attorney on both cases, told HIV Plus that the Foreign Service policy not only violates the protections offered by the Rehabilitation Act--a federal law similar to the Americans With Disabilities Act that applies directly to federal employees--it is so outdated that it doesn't reflect medical advancements that have turned HIV into a manageable chronic condition for many HIV-positive people. "By applying this litmus test and saying that no one with HIV is qualified," Givner told HIV Plus, "the State Department is ignoring medical fact and ignoring the legal requirements that every individual must be evaluated on his or her own individual merit, health, and history."
Lamdba officials say they strongly disagree with Collyer's ruling against Taylor and that they are currently planning a strategy in appealing the case and moving forward in challenging the State Department's discriminatory policies against HIV-positive employees.