TSA Applicant Says HIV Cost Him a Job

By Joe Davidson
Friday, June 19, 2009

As a gay man, Michael Lamarre was encouraged by President Obama's decision to extend certain benefits to the same-sex partners of gay federal workers.

But Lamarre, a 43-year-old Oakland Park, Fla., biking enthusiast and Air Force veteran, sees an inconsistency in the president's action and the harsh realities far away from the Oval Office. While the presidential memorandum signed Wednesday will make the federal workplace more welcoming to gay men and lesbians, Lamarre said he isn't welcome at all.

He says the Transportation Security Administration blocked his employment because he is HIV-positive.

"It does seem like a contradiction in my case," Lamarre said yesterday.

Though he feels no ill effects from HIV, works out with weights and is an avid cyclist -- he completed a 165-mile bike ride in two days last year and is in training for another one -- Lamarre recently was rejected as a transportation security officer (TSO) candidate on health grounds.

"Based on the current requirements of the job and the results from your recent medical evaluation it was determined that you could not perform the TSO job safely, effectively and efficiently," he was informed in writing.

But the letter does not identify what in the medical evaluation led to that conclusion. Lamarre concluded he was denied simply because he is HIV-positive. TSA policy forbids that, at least in theory.

The agency does not comment on individual cases, but here's what TSA spokesman Sterling Payne said about its policies:

"TSA policy does not automatically disqualify applicants with HIV. TSA's physicians have in fact cleared applicants who are HIV positive for continuation through the hiring process. . . . Sometimes it will not be the underlying medical condition that disqualifies an applicant, but the medications that the applicant takes. Medications can disqualify the applicant if they affect, for example, judgment or vision."

TSA's letter did not say anything about Lamarre's medications or provide any specific details about why he was disqualified. That led Robert F. Rosenwald Jr., Lamarre's ACLU Foundation lawyer in Miami, to complain that the TSA's anti-discrimination policies "ring empty."

"TSA provided no grounds other than 'medical disqualification' for denying Mr. Lamarre an opportunity to serve his country working for the TSA and no support for its conclusions that Mr. Lamarre's HIV status renders him unable to fulfill the duties required of a TSO," Rosenwald wrote in a complaint to the agency.

Rosenwald said his client had "never suffered from an opportunistic illness" in 20 years and makes a good case that "Mr. Lamarre's HIV-status has no bearing on his ability to perform as a TSO."

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