Telling your co-workers that you're HIV-positive might make many people nervous. But the nurse was working at the Christian Care Center, a faith-based elder care facility whose motto is "Caring Is Our Calling." So during her first month on the job, the licensed practical nurse alerted her co-workers that she expected she would need to trade shifts or leave early to attend appointments to manage her HIV. But she never had that chance.
The day after she told some co-workers about her HIV status, she met with administrators and confirmed her status; they then fired her, according to a suit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The woman's identity was not disclosed in the lawsuit.
Neither the Christian Care Center nor its operating manager, Tennessee-based Care Centers Management Consulting, returned calls from AOL Jobs, but they did release a statement saying that the hospital fired the nurse in an effort to protect patients' health.
"We remain firmly committed to maintaining the health and safety of our residents. That always has been and is our single-highest priority," Arnold was quoted as saying in a statement released to the Johnson City Press.
According to the lawsuit, the hospital fired the woman because administrators didn't believe that she could perform "the essential function of administering medications" because of her HIV-positive status.
The Centers for Disease Control says the HIV virus is transmitted through direct contact with the bodily fluids or damaged tissue of an infected person, most commonly through sexual intercourse or the sharing of needles. After the outbreak of the AIDS virus in the 1980s, those Americans with the virus were eventually granted protected status as part of the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act.
As a result, Americans with the disease must be given equal opportunity in public accommodations, transportation and employment. As long as the virus does not prevent the worker from carrying out the duties of his or her job, then the employer cannot fire someone simply because they have the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS, says Katharine W. Kores, district director of the EEOC's Memphis District Office.
HIV-positive Americans also have a history of emerging victorious from legal matters related to their being fired for their status. In one landmark case, Cirque de Soleil agreed in 2004 to settle with gymnast Matthew Cusick for $600,000, after firing him for having HIV. He had been cleared by his doctors to perform. More recently, and more directly relevant to the Care Centers case, the Pennsylvania-based Capital Healthcare Systems agreed to pay $22,000 to a nurse after rescinding an offer of employment because they learned of her HIV-positive status.
Still, the EEOC is not expecting an easy battle.
"It's clear that HIV-positive status gives one protection under the ADA," says Kores. "But there are very creative legal minds out there."
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