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Cirque offers to rehire HIV-positive gay man

Cirque offers to rehire HIV-positive gay man

Cirque du Soleil officials said Friday that they will offer to rehire Matthew Cusick for an unspecified "performance position." The openly gay Cusick was fired from his job as an acrobat with the Montreal-based company last year because he is HIV-positive. Cirque had maintained that the 32-year-old's condition could harm fellow performers. Cusick and his lawyers--from the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund--filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, which ruled Thursday that Cirque likely discriminated against Cusick. "This is a major development," said Hayley Gorenberg, director of Lambda's AIDS Project. "The federal government has looked very carefully at Cirque du Soleil's actions, and its investigation confirmed there is evidence that Cirque engaged in unlawful discrimination." However, Lambda's lawyers cautioned that the legal battle is far from finished. Cirque officials have yet to indicate what kind of "performance" job they will give to Cusick--there is no guarantee he will get another acrobatic job. In a statement the company said it will work out a position during mediation, which was suggested by the EEOC. Lambda lawyers said they are still considering their options, including filing a discrimination suit in federal court. Calls to Cirque spokeswoman Renee-Claude Menard by Advocate.com seeking comment were not returned. She did tell a California newspaper that the EEOC ruling "demonstrated to us that the risks [posed by Cusick's HIV status] are minimal, so we feel confident that safety can be ensured." Cusick revealed his HIV status to the company shortly after being hired in July 2002, and a company doctor deemed him fit to perform. After four months of training and then being assigned to a role in the Las Vegas show Mystere, the company sent him a letter of termination, claiming he posed a health risk. Cusick said he was "blindsided" by Cirque's decision to fire him. His termination ignited protests across the country. Several thousand people signed petitions and sent letters to the company. Cirque has also come under fire from local governments in recent weeks, with the San Francisco Human Rights Commission launching its own discrimination investigation and the Los Angeles city attorney writing a strongly worded letter to Cirque du Soleil's founder and CEO, Guy Laliberte, to express concern. "We're doing the right thing in fighting this," Cusick told The Advocate in December. "I'm very happy so many people feel the same way I do."

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