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Judge dismisses AIDS Quilt lawsuit

Judge dismisses AIDS Quilt lawsuit

A San Francisco judge this week dismissed a lawsuit filed by Cleve Jones, the HIV-positive creator of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, against the foundation that owns and manages the quilt over Jones's firing in December 2003. Jones, who started the 40,000-panel quilt in 1987 and served as its official spokesman until his firing, says he was wrongly fired from his job because he pushed for a plan to display the full quilt in Washington, D.C., prior to the 2004 election. He claims that display was opposed by the Atlanta-based Names Project Foundation's executive director and board of directors. Jones told The Advocate in March 2004 that Names Project executive director Julie Rhoad told him that if he met a $3 million fund-raising goal that the quilt would be taken on a national tour and displayed in the nation's capital. But two months later, when it became clear that he was going to meet the fund-raising goal, Jones claims the foundation inexplicably ordered him to stop all his fund-raising efforts for the project. He also claims that the foundation refused to provide him with basic financial information about the agency that potential funders had requested to see. Jones also told The Advocate that he was fired after writing a memo to the foundation's board of directors criticizing the organization's leadership, pointing out what he called peculiarities in the foundation's finances, and criticizing the organization for excluding HIV-positive people from leadership roles at the foundation. He adds that the foundation also reneged on a promise to reopen a quilt project office in San Francisco, where the quilt was founded and housed until 2001. Jones told The Advocate that the agency contacted him on December 1, 2003, to tell him that his position with the agency was being curtailed--that he would be paid $10,000 per year, down from his annual salary of $41,500, and that he'd retain his health insurance only if he agreed never to criticize the organization or speak publicly on behalf of the foundation or about the foundation without advance written permission from Rhoad. Calling that offer a "muzzle," Jones told The Advocate he turned down the offer. On December 31 he says he was informed that he had been fired from the agency. Repeated requests in March and April 2004 by The Advocate for interviews with Names Project executive director Julie Rhoad or board president Edward Gatta were refused. The agency also refused to provide financial information to The Advocate. Gatta told the San Francisco Chronicle that the foundation did not fire Jones, but that it had suspended his salary because Jones refused to meet with foundation officials to discuss changes in his role with the organization. The foundation agreed in January 2004 to keep paying for Jones' health care insurance, which Jones relied on to treat his HIV disease, according to Gatta. San Francisco superior court judge James Warren ruled the foundation had grounds to fire Jones and dismissed the wrongful termination lawsuit Jones had filed. However, Warren allowed a separate lawsuit claiming that Jones was "muzzled from speaking and thwarted from promoting his life's work" to continue, the Chronicle reports. That case will go before a jury in September.

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