Lambda Legal filed this amicus brief in behalf of the plaintiff in a wrongful termination action brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Colorado state anti-discrimination laws. The plaintiff, who is HIV-positive, was removed from his position as a phlebotomist at a blood donation center and offered a position with lower skill requirements. The brief focuses on the issue of whether the plaintiff is an individual with a disability and is thus entitled to the protections of the ADA.
The brief relies on three grounds to support the assertion that the plaintiff in this case is an individual with a disability: (1) the text and legislative history of the ADA establish that the act provides broad protections to people with HIV, (2) HIV infection is a disability, and (3) HIV-positive individuals are often regarded as disabled. On the first point, the brief points out the broad intent of Congress in drafting the ADA as well as the verbatim use of the definition of disability from the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which recognized HIV as a disability. On the second point, the brief addresses the three-step analysis used by courts to determine whether a plaintiff’s impairment falls within the ADA’s definition of disability, and asserts that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bragdon v. Abbott, and subsequent federal rulings, compels recognition of the plaintiff’s HIV-positive status as a disability under the ADA. On the third point, the brief argues that the ADA’s protection of those regarded as disabled applies directly to the plaintiff whose employer regarded him as being substantially impaired and whose reassignment was based on fears and stereotypes. Termination based on fears or stereotypes about a person’s disability is precisely what the ADA was created to combat.