Todd Shuttleworth says he was trying to protect his dentist when he informed his insurance company last summer that he had AIDS. Shuttleworth needed oral surgery and wanted permission to see a dentist who had experience with AIDS patients.
But Shuttleworth's caution backfired.
Within days, his bosses at the Broward County budget office learned of his condition and fired him.
Shuttleworth, 31, and another victim of AIDS -- acquired immune deficiency syndrome -- fired by the county are suing to regain their jobs. In the process, they hope to end what may be the first written policy by a government barring AIDS victims from its work force.
The Broward County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union jumped into the case after Shuttleworth was fired in September and has drawn attention from national gay-rights groups and the medical community that treats AIDS victims.
Research experts say, has uncovered no evidence that AIDS -- which devastates the body's ability to fight disease and has been found mostly among male homosexuals, drug users and hemophiliacs -- can be transmitted through casual contact.
But Broward County Administrator Floyd Johnson said those assurances are insufficient: "No one can give me a 100 percent guarantee."
Shuttleworth had worked in the county budget office for more than a year, earning "outstanding" job ratings, when he discovered in June that he had AIDS. Two months later, he informed the county's insurance company.
When his supervisors were apprised, they put Shuttleworth on paid leave, then fired him. Along with his job, Shuttleworth lost his medical insurance.
He now lives in San Francisco, where he gets free treatment for his disease.
Don Fanus, 47, had worked at the Broward County Library for four months when his boss asked if he had AIDS. When Fanus said that he did, he was forced to take a paid leave and then was fired.
Johnson said he had approved a policy that dismisses any with AIDS "because of his inability to perform his job in a manner which is safe to himself and to others."
The policy continues: "It should be noted that the medical community is not able to provide any clear or detailed information or guidelines" regarding AIDS.
But medical experts on AIDS disagreed.
"AIDS is communicated through sexual contact, intravenous drug use and, to a smaller degree, from blood transfusions," said Charles Fallis, spokesman for the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, where AIDS studies have been going on since 1981. "No doctor gives guarantees, but all the evidence indicates it cannot be transmitted in the work place."
Shuttleworth said the AIDS policy probably was written by people who don't understand his disease.
"I think it may be a subconscious thing against gays," he said. "If it was a 'straight disease,' I think they would have handled it differently."