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Job Denial Based on HIV Status May Violate ADA

A federal district court in Florida held that a jail's denial of trustee status to an HIV+ prisoner would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 42 U.S.C. 12131. Johnnie Dean was held in the St. Lucie County jail when he requested trustee status. Dean was HIV+ but asymptomatic and had informed jail officials of his medical problem upon his arrival. His request was denied for medical reasons with no other explanation given. Dean was later told by a nurse that the jail had a policy of denying trustee status to HIV+ prisoners. Dean filed suit, claiming that the denial of his request for trustee status based on his HIV status was an act of discrimination banned by the ADA. The defendants moved for summary judgment claiming that Dean was not disabled under the terms of the ADA, and even if he was, he suffered no discrimination. The court denied their motion, holding that a trial was required.

In its brief ruling, the court held that a person who is HIV+ but asymptomatic qualifies as disabled under both the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act (RA), 29 U.S.C. § 794 because the prison system treats prisoners who are HIV+ as if they were handicapped. See: Harris v. Thigpen, 941 F.2d 1495 (11th Cir. 1991). The court held that this makes a finding of disability dependent upon the factual issue of the treatment the plaintiff receives at the hands of jail officials. Set for trial was the issue of whether or not Dean actually suffered discrimination because of his HIV status when he was denied the trustee job. Dean presented evidence showing that the jail had a policy of denying jobs to HIV+ prisoners. The jail claimed that some HIV+ prisoners were made trustees. See: Dean v. Knowles, 912 F. Supp. 519 (SD FL 1996).

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Related legal case

Dean v. Knowles

JOHNNIE DEAN, Plaintiff, vs. ROBERT KNOWLES, individually and in his official capacity as Sheriff of St. Lucie County; LILLIE MILLER, Capt., individually and in her official capacity as head of the St. Lucie County Correctional Facility, Defendants.



Case No. 94-14227-CIV-MOORE



UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA, MIAMI DIVISION



912 F. Supp. 519; 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3104; 9 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. D 540



January 8, 1996, DONE AND ORDERED

January 8, 1996, FILED













COUNSEL: [**1] For ROBERT KNOWLES, individually, and in his official capacity as Sheriff of St. Lucie County, LILLIE MILLER, Capt., individually, and in her official capacity as head of the St. Lucie County Correctional Facility, defendants: Richard A. Giuffreda, [COR LD NTC], Shailer, Purdy & Jolly, P.A., Fort Lauderdale, FL.



JUDGES: K. MICHAEL MOORE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE



OPINIONBY: K. MICHAEL MOORE



OPINION:

[*520] ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

THIS CAUSE came before the Court upon Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, dated November 22, 1995.

THE COURT has considered the Motion, responses and the pertinent portions of the record, and being otherwise fully advised in the premises, it is

ADJUDGED that the Motion is DENIED. It appears from a careful review of the motions, filings and attachments that there remain in dispute genuine issues of material [*521] fact, hence the moving party is not entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff in this case was a prisoner at the St. Lucie County Correctional Facility from February to December 1994. Upon intake, plaintiff advised corrections officials that was afflicted with the Human Immunodeficiency [**2] Virus (HIV). Plaintiff's diagnosis was confirmed by medical tests. Plaintiff's condition remained asymptomatic throughout his period of incarceration. During his stay at the facility, Plaintiff requested to be granted trustee status. This request was denied for medical reasons. No further explanation was given at the time of denial. Subsequently, Plaintiff was told by a nurse that the jail had a policy in place to deny trustee status to HIV positive inmates.

Plaintiff filed suit under Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. He claims that the denial of his request for trustee designation was an act of discrimination which violated his rights under the ADA.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." To obtain summary judgment, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue [**3] of material fact. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157, 26 L. Ed. 2d 142, 90 S. Ct. 1598 (1970).

In assessing whether the movant has met this burden, the Court views the evidence and all factual inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Id. The moving party must demonstrate that the facts underlying all the relevant legal questions raised by the pleadings or otherwise are not in dispute, or else summary judgment will be denied. Clemons v. Dougherty County, Ga., 684 F.2d 1365, 1368-69 (11th Cir. 1982). All reasonable doubts about the facts are to be resolved in favor of the nonmovant. Id.

ADA

Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination in the provision of public services. 42 U.S.C § 12131, et seq. Section 12132 of the act states that "no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity."

In order to establish a violation of Title II of the ADA, Plaintiff must show: (1) that he is a qualified individual with a disability [**4] as defined by the ADA; (2) that he was excluded from participation in the facility's trustee program; and (3) that the exclusion was because of Plaintiff's disability. Concerned Parents to Save Dreher Park Center v. City of West Palm Beach. 846 F. Supp. 986 (S.D. Fla. 1994); see also, Harris v. Thigpen, 941 F.2d 1495 (11th Cir. 1991) (establishing the same standard under the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794). n1 Defendants claim they are entitled to summary judgment because Plaintiff is not disabled and even if he was, he suffered no discrimination as a result. Plaintiff naturally disagrees.



n1 The parties to this litigation have not addressed the issue of whether or not Plaintiff is a "qualified individual" under the ADA. It is clear that this issue is a question for the trier of fact in this matter.


This Court need not address the issue of whether a person who is HIV positive but asymptomatic is disabled per se under the ADA. The Eleventh Circuit held, in Harris v. Thigpen, that HIV seropositivity [**5] was a handicap under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C § 701, because the correctional system treated inmates as if they were handicapped. 941 F.2d at 1524. Courts in this circuit and elsewhere have found that the standards of the Rehabilitation Act are applicable to cases under the ADA. Gates v. [*522] Rowland, 39 F.3d 1439 (9th Cir. 1994); Ethridge v. State of Alabama, 860 F. Supp. 808 (M.D. Ala 1994). Both the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act provide that a person who is regarded as disabled by a public entity is protected as if he were in fact disabled. n2 At a minimum this makes a finding of disability dependant on the factual issue of the treatment of the Plaintiff at the hands of the St Lucie County Correctional Facility. Harris, 941 F.2d at 1524.



n2 The ADA defines "disability" as:

(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of... [an] individual;

(B) a record of such an impairment; or

(C) being regarded as having such an impairment.


42 U.S.C. § 12102(2) (emphasis added).


[**6]

This Court also finds that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether or not Plaintiff suffered discrimination. There is a clear dispute over the reason Plaintiff's trustee request was denied. Plaintiff has submitted evidence that the facility had a policy of denying trustee status to HIV positive inmates. Defendants counter with evidence that some HIV positive inmates were in fact made trustees. Thus, a question of fact remains as to why Plaintiff's request was denied, and summary judgment is therefore inappropriate.

DONE AND ORDERED in Chambers at Miami, Florida, this 8th day of January, 1996.

 

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