In Dangerous Locales, HIV Discrimination Isn't an Open-and-Shut Case

The State Dept. says private security firm Triple Canopy's government contract requires that workers
The State Dept. says private security firm Triple Canopy's government contract requires that workers "be free from communicable disease." (Courtesy Chuck Sheppard)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Joe Davidson
Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Should an employer be required to hire an applicant who has HIV for work that could become bloody in a place where there is poor medical care?

Suppose the job is protecting diplomats in dangerous places. The employee would carry a gun, probably a big one, and would be trained to expect attacks. The result of an assault, of course, could be a bloody mess.

The answer is not an easy one, which is why the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has been asked to sort it out.

The case involves a 46-year-old former Green Beret, who received numerous decorations during his 20 years in the service. Shortly before the Obama administration took office, he sued the State Department and a private security firm, Triple Canopy, because he was pushed out of its training program. He was told the company's government contract requires that employees have no contagious illness.

Court documents refer to the plaintiff as John Doe. Journalists don't like to use pseudonyms, but exceptions are sometimes made. In this case Doe, who did tell me his real name, says he fears further discrimination. "I have a family and I want to protect my kids," he said in a telephone interview.

In November 2005, Doe was at the end of his training with Herndon-based Triple Canopy when a supervisor pulled him from a session to say Doe would not be sent to protect diplomats in Haiti as planned.

According to Doe's court brief, the supervisor cited paragraph C5 of the company's contract with State, which says, "all contractor employees working under this contract should . . . be free from communicable disease." Doe was told that provision is mandatory and includes HIV.

Now, instead of the $545 a day he would have made with Triple Canopy, he says he gets $12 an hour doing construction work.

Through his attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation and the firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York, Doe argues that the federal Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination based on disabilities, including HIV.

"Despite these mandated protections, the State Department required certain of its contractors to terminate, or deem ineligible for employment, all individuals with HIV regardless of their ability to perform the essential functions of the job," Doe's brief states.

He doesn't have any symptoms. And after Special Forces service and having already done similar work in Iraq, he has no doubt that he can do the job.

"There is not too many Americans that are as qualified as I am doing this kind of work" he told me. "I am a professional at what I do, and I've never had any problems doing my job."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company