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AIDS quilt group,
founder settle lawsuit

AIDS quilt group,
founder settle lawsuit

The foundation that cares for the AIDS Memorial Quilt announced Wednesday that the group has settled a lawsuit with the man who created the quilt and later claimed he was wrongly fired.

Cleve Jones, who in 1987 stitched the first square of what became an international symbol of the human toll of AIDS, sued the Atlanta-based Names Project Foundation last year. He said he was fired after complaining that the quilt was not being displayed as prominently as it should be. Earlier this year superior court judges in San Francisco threw out the wrongful firing and breach of contract portions of Jones's suit. All that remained before Jones agreed to drop the lawsuit was a claim that the foundation intentionally caused him mental distress.

Charles Thompson, a San Francisco attorney who represented the foundation, said leaders are glad to have the lawsuit behind them. "This cost the foundation a substantial amount of money that it could not afford," Thompson said. "It put a substantial strain on resources that could have been better used to fight AIDS."

Thompson, a former director of the foundation, said no money changed hands as part of the settlement. He said the Names Project Foundation agreed to allow Jones--who acted as the project's spokesman for 15 years--to nominate four finalists for two positions on the foundation's board of directors each year.

Jones, who lives in Palm Springs, Calif., could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Last year he complained that the foundation was doing too little with the 50-ton quilt.

"It has become essentially invisible and irrelevant in the struggle against AIDS," Jones said in January. "I thought it was terribly important in an election year to get AIDS back on the radar screen."

Jones, who is HIV-positive, founded the Names Project and served as its executive director until 1990, when he resigned due to his illness. He continued to serve as the organization's public face until December, when he was fired. His lawsuit claimed he was terminated because he questioned the direction the foundation has taken under its new leadership.

Over the objections of some AIDS activists, the foundation and quilt were moved from San Francisco to Atlanta in March 2001. At the time, foundation officials said the move was necessary to save money on rent, to bring the financially struggling organization closer to East Coast foundations, and to reach African-American communities that had been hard hit by AIDS.

Portions of the quilt currently are being displayed in cities throughout the nation. (AP)

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