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Judge calls for
trial in federal HIV discrimination case

Judge calls for
trial in federal HIV discrimination case

The U.S. court of appeals for the District of Columbia on Tuesday ruled that a discrimination case involving an HIV-positive man denied employment by the State Department's Foreign Service office can go to trial. Judge Arthur Raymond Randolph ruled that Lambda Legal, the agency representing federal worker Lorenzo Taylor, has "more than enough" evidence to go to trial.

The question before the D.C. appeals court was whether the case had disputed facts that must be heard by a jury rather than decided by a judge without a trial. In Tuesday's decision, the court agreed with Lambda Legal's arguments and sent the case to the U.S. district court to proceed toward trial.

Judge Randolph also called Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's claims that hiring an HIV-positive applicant would be an undue hardship for the agency "suspect," noting that the agency regularly hires people with other medical ailments. Randolph also found Rice's claims particularly troublesome given that Taylor's HIV disease is well controlled through drug treatment and that his "immune system is strong enough to enable him to serve throughout the world without increased risk of harm."

The State Department had claimed that hiring Taylor--or other HIV-positive applicants--could be potentially damaging to his health as there is no guarantee he would be posted in a country or locale with adequate medical care. Taylor had requested to be able to use his sick and vacation time to seek medical care in developed countries as needed, but the State Department said that was an unreasonable request. However, if currently employed Foreign Service officers are diagnosed with HIV while on the job, the agency makes accommodations for those employees.

Lambda Legal's lawsuit, filed in late 2002, says the State Department's policy denying the hiring of HIV-positive applicants to the Foreign Service violates the federal Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits the federal government from discriminating against people with disabilities. The lawsuit seeks a change in the outdated policy.

"We are pleased to see that the court sees through the faulty reasoning used by the State Department to substantiate this discriminatory and baseless policy," said Jonathan Givner, director of Lambda Legal's HIV Project, in a press statement. "This ruling establishes that our client must have his day in court." (The Advocate)

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