Clarksville sued for withdrawing police job offer based on HIV diagnosis

The town of Clarksville is being sued for allegations of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by revoking a reserve police officer’s job offer after discovering his HIV diagnosis.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed the lawsuit Monday against the southern Indiana town in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, alleging the Clarksville Police Department and Clarksville Metropolitan Board of Fire, Police and Safety Commissioners unlawfully revoked a job offer to a qualified law enforcement officer based on his HIV diagnosis.

The DOJ says the law enforcement officer had been working for the town’s police department as a volunteer reserve officer for more than a year when he received a conditional offer of employment as a police officer in 2015, contingent upon him passing a state-mandated medical examination prescribed by the Indiana Public Retirement System.

However, upon learning of the complainant’s HIV diagnosis, the complaint says the examiner advised Clarksville’s police chief that, in his opinion, the complainant did not meet the statewide medical standards because his HIV was a “communicable disease” that posed a “‘significant risk of substantial harm to the health and safety’ of his colleagues and the public.”

According to the DOJ, no objective scientific or medical evidence was cited in support of that opinion.

The complainant maintains his HIV is well-controlled with medication and his viral load is, and during all relevant times was, fully suppressed. The suit also states his HIV does not present a significant risk to the health or safety of himself or others in the performance of his duties as a police officer.

Following the examination, the Clarksville police chief recommended that the Clarksville Metropolitan Board of Fire, Police and Safety Commissioners withdraw the job offer and terminate the complainant as a reserve police officer.

The complaint says the officer was notified that he “did not pass the statewide baseline test” required by the Indiana Public Retirement System.

The suit claims the town violated Title I of the ADA in withdrawing the officer’s job offer.

Title I prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified individuals on the basis of disability “in regard to the discharge of employees and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.” Such discrimination can include withdrawing a job offer to a qualified individual based on unsupported and stereotypical views of the applicant’s disability, according to the DOJ.

After 15 months of the complainant’s efforts to appeal the disqualification, the defendants acknowledged he was qualified by adding him back to its police officer hiring list. However, the complainant was never rehired in Clarksville.

He later found a job with another police department, according to The Associated Press.

The suit alleges Clarksville’s actions delayed the start of the complainant’s law enforcement career and caused him significant emotional distress, including humiliation, depression and anxiety, as well as other monetary and dignitary harms. It also alleges the town’s actions have caused continuing harm because the rescission of the job offer leaves a gap in his law enforcement career that is difficult to explain.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found reasonable cause to believe the allegations of discrimination on the basis of disability were true, according to the complaint. The EEOC referred the case to the DOJ after failed conciliation efforts.

“Every day, we depend on law enforcement officers who put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe,” Zachary A. Myers, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, said in a news release. “Those who are qualified and seek to serve their communities should not be subjected to unlawful discrimination.

“Individuals living with HIV are entitled to the full protection of our anti-discrimination laws,” Myers continued. “Our office will work closely with our partners in the Civil Rights Division to ensure that those who seek to serve the public are not unlawfully discriminated against.”

According to the AP, Clarksville Town Manager Kevin Baity said the town is working with the DOJ to “find an amicable solution.”

Indiana Lawyer has reached out to town officials for comment.

The case is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana and the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.

The suit seeks compensatory damages, including damages for emotional distress and injuries suffered, as well as a jury trial. It also seeks to reinstate the complainant to the position of police officer with seniority and retirement benefits as if his employment had continued on a full-time, uninterrupted basis since the date his conditional offer was withdrawn.

The case is United States of America v. The Town of Clarksville, Indiana, 4:22-cv-00056.

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