Taylor v. Rice, 451 F.3d 898 (D.C. Cir. 2006)

Court and Agency Decisions and Orders (including case law)

In this decision, the Court of Appeals held that the Department of State was not entitled to summary judgment in an employment discrimination claim brought by Taylor, an individual living with HIV. Taylor filed suit under the Rehabilitation Act after the Department of State rejected his application to become a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) because of his HIV status. The Department of State has a general policy against hiring otherwise qualified HIV positive individuals based on the belief that their treatment and care limits their ability to serve at Foreign Service posts worldwide. The Department defended its policy and actions under the Rehabilitation Act. First, it argued that Taylor’s disability could not reasonably be accommodated because Taylor’s HIV prevented him from serving at all Foreign Service posts worldwide, which, it argued, is an essential function of an FSO. The Department of State also argued that even if it could reasonably accommodate Taylor’s disability, such accommodation would pose an undue hardship on the Department’s operations.

The Court of Appeals held that the extent to which an FSO must be available for overseas posting was in dispute and an issue for trial. It cited physicians’ testimony that Taylor was in excellent health and evidence that his medical needs could be met using the leave time provided to all FSOs, and further held that whether an accommodation was reasonable or posed an undue hardship depended on the particular circumstances of the case. The court concluded that the Department of State was not entitled to summary judgment with respect to the Rehabilitation Act defenses it raised and remanded the case to the District Court for trial.

In February 2008, less than two weeks before the trial was due to begin, the State Department adopted new hiring guidelines and lifted its ban against hiring people with HIV as Foreign Service Officers. The case was subsequently closed.