The Alexandria Human Rights Commission ruled last night that a clothing store discriminated against Roger A. Nickles by firing him from his job as a window dresser two years ago because he had AIDS.
By an 8 to 2 vote, the commission ordered the Alexandria-based Steven-Windsor Inc. clothing stores to pay about one year's back pay with interest to the estate of Nickles, who died July 2 at the age of 47. The dollar amount of the award had not been calculated last night.
Shortly before he died, Nickles videotaped his own deposition, later shown to the commission, in which he said he "wanted the people at Steven-Windsor to know that they cannot discriminate against somebody because they have AIDS or against anyone with any handicap."
The tape, in which a gaunt Nickles vented his anger and frustration, left commission members visibily shaken when it was shown at a two-day hearing last month.
At issue before the commission was whether the clothier fired Nickles because he had AIDS or whether the disease made him so disabled that he could not perform his duties.
Nickles's attorney, Douglas B. Mishkin, claimed "a major victory" last night, "not only for Roger Nickles, but for anyone who has AIDS or who is HIV-infected. He brought this case to make a statement. He was not a victim of AIDS. He led a productive life up until his death. He was a victim of discrimination."
In addition to ordering payment of Nickles' salary between September 1988, when he was fired, and last September, the commission ordered the company to display notices for its employees of federal, state and local laws and codes protecting human rights.
The commission did not award Nickles's estate damages he claimed for emotional strain resulting from his firing. Commission members declined to comment on the case before they issuing written opinions Sept. 4.
Keith A. Rosenberg, attorney for Steven-Windsor President Morton Ruben, said that the case will probably be appealed to Alexandria Circuit Court. Rosenberg would not comment further other than to say the commission had made several procedural errors.
Mishkin had said Nickles received a message on his telephone answering machine in September 1988 telling him that he was fired because he had AIDS. Mishkin maintained that Nickles was still capable of arranging window displays at the time and introduced testimony that Nickles worked for another clothier up until a year later when the illness claimed his eyesight.
Attorneys for Steven-Windsor, a 13-store chain headquartered on Duke Street had argued that Nickles was fired because he was unreliable, often failing to come to work. Attorneys for the clothier also recently gave the commission affidavits alleging that Nickles engaged in a subterfuge.
Sworn statements by Nickles's sister alleged that in an effort to win Social Security benefits Nickles took the Steven-Windsor job and then lost it to prove his disability.
The sister, Beverly Bowen, testified that her brother said "he had to get a job to prove to the Social Security Administration that he could not work a full time job."
Mishkin called those claims last night "unfortunate and unbecoming -- family members trying to air dirty laundry. That was outside of the ballpark. This case was not about Social Security."