NASHVILLE, TN — Lambda Legal, with partners McDermott Will & Emery and Merchant Gould P.C., filed a federal lawsuit against Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County late last week challenging the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department’s (MNPD) discriminatory policies and practices that reject all job applicants living with HIV.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee on behalf of an anonymous plaintiff, John Doe, a 45-year-old Black man and decorated civil servant living with HIV who has worked as a Tennessee State Trooper and with the Memphis Police Department for several years. The plaintiff was previously offered a position in the MNPD, but his 2020 offer was later rescinded solely because of his HIV status.
“This lawsuit responds to a clear case of HIV and employment discrimination where the MNPD denied employment to a well-qualified applicant due only to his HIV status. This applicant was taking advantage of today’s medical advancements and treatments; there is absolutely no reason why his HIV status is at all relevant to his ability to perform the duties of a job in law enforcement, the military, or any other job. In this case, the discrimination is even more egregious since the plaintiff had been serving as a police officer in Tennessee for years with no issue. To the contrary, he has been recognized for his work.” said Greg Nevins, Senior Counsel and the Director of Lambda Legal’s Employment Fairness Project.
“There are many concerning aspects of this discriminatory policy but a particular one is the racial aspect. Nashville is a city where almost 60% of people living with HIV are Black, and black men, who face disproportionate access to preventative health care, are 3.1 times more likely to live with HIV than White males. Given this data, the MNPD’s discriminatory policy clearly has a disproportionate impact on Black people and people of color. Discriminating on the basis of HIV status brings up other potential intersectional issues of race, gender, sexual orientation and, of course, stigma,” said Jose Abrigo, HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal.
“McDermott Will & Emery is proud to serve as co-counsel with Lambda Legal and Merchant Gould on this important employment discrimination case,” said Lisa A. Linsky, McDermott Litigation partner, co-lead on the case and founder of McDermott’s LGBTQ+ Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee. Our law firm has a rich history of pro bono work supporting marginalized communities and fighting unjust laws, and we are committed to ensuring justice for all Americans.”
The Police Department’s policy rejected the plaintiff’s application during the Civil Service Medical Officer’s exam process claiming that an applicant “must meet or exceed the medical standards set forth in the United States Army Induction Standards.” MNPD uses the Pentagon’s medical exam policies for hiring purposes. Lambda Legal is fighting this same hiring policy from the Pentagon in federal court in the lawsuit Wilkins v. Austin, related to the U.S. Armed Forces’ policy barring people living with HIV from enlisting.
However, since 2022, the Pentagon is no longer either discharging military members due to HIV or considering HIV status for deployment or commissions, following a landmark ruling in April 2022 that was not appealed. A Virginia federal judge ruled that, as to servicemembers living with HIV who are asymptomatic and virally suppressed, the military could not discharge them, refuse to commission them, or categorically bar their worldwide deployment based on their HIV status. This victory came in lawsuits Harrison v. Austin and Roe and Voe v. Austin – litigation Lambda Legal brought with its partners Modern Military Association, Winston & Strawn LLP, Peter Perkowski, Esq., and Scott Schoettes.
The lawsuit filed last week, John Doe v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Metropolitan Nashville Police Department argues that MNPD’s policies are unlawful and constitute a violation of federal law including, but not limited to, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
This lawsuit is the latest in Lambda Legal’s long history of fighting HIV discrimination nationwide, starting in 1983 with People v. West 12 Tenants Corp., helping to establish the illegality of discriminating against people living with HIV.