OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — A Kansas man claims he was fired from a restaurant in Overland Park after he was diagnosed with HIV, and a lawsuit was filed in federal court.
Mark Dugan is the attorney representing the man who used to work as a server at a Big Biscuit restaurant.
“It’s, at the minimum, disability discrimination, or discrimination based on the perception of disability,” Dugan said. “I think it’s likely discrimination based on the stigma and negative perception about HIV.”
When his client accepted the job in 2017, he explained that he couldn’t work on Sundays because of family commitments. For the next year, there were no problems with that.
A year later, he learned he was HIV positive. Because he was wary of the social stigma associated with that, he instead told his manager he had cancer.
However, he later needed his employer’s signature on a document to get HIV treatment through a state program.
The very next day, he was told he was being moved to a different location and with a different schedule that included Sundays. Then, he was fired when he told management he still couldn’t work Sundays.
Thrive Health Connection is a nonprofit that supports people living with HIV and AIDS.
“I’m not entirely surprised,” said Rebecca Stern, a medical case manager with Thrive. “People really lack a lot of information about how STIs and HIV are transmitted, and I think that results in a lot of stigma.”
They said that it’s not just employers that treat patients unfairly. Sometimes, it’s a person’s own family.
“They won’t want to use the same dishes that they use,” said RaeShaun Williams, another medical case manager. “They’ll have to use paper plates and throw the dishes. Their family may not be as affectionate with hugging them because they feel that they can become HIV positive because of the touch.”
For all intents and purposes, the only way HIV can be transmitted between adults is through unprotected sex or by sharing or needles. People at Thrive said more education is needed in schools to get rid of harmful misinformation.