Florida Taxi Driver Files HIV Discrimination Lawsuit

Paul Brinkmann

Published in the Orlando Sentinel, June 20, 2014

A former driver for Mears Transportation has sued the taxi company for alleged discrimination, claiming he was fired after revealing he was HIV positive.

The June 13 lawsuit, filed in Orlando federal court, uses only initials S.G. to identify the driver, who was hired in October 2011 and fired in the summer of 2013.

His attorney, Michael Morris of Morris & Hancock in Orlando, said the driver wants to keep his identity private as long as possible.

Mears dominates the taxi industry in Central Florida, where Walt Disney World and other tourism centers drew 59 million visitors in 2013. 

According to the lawsuit, the driver was diagnosed with HIV shortly after being hired. He took medical leave several times, citing the Family and Medical Leave Act, but “performed his job to satisfaction.”

“In the middle of 2013, his supervisor and some other employees accused him of some ugly things, and indicated that [he] was not a ‘good fit’ for the company anymore. He was fired with no real investigation,” the lawsuit alleges.

When asked about the allegations, Mears Vice President for public affairs Roger Chapin said in an email, “Mears is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate against its employees on the basis of  disability or any other protected status.  We have no direct comment on this specific suit.”

The suit alleges discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Florida Civil Rights Act. It also alleges violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act and retaliation.

The suit is currently in front of U.S. District Judge Karla R. Spaulding. The driver’s complaint was first submitted to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC provided the driver with a “right to sue” finding. According to the EEOC document,  the “right to sue” was only granted because 180 days had passed and not because the EEOC made any finding about the allegations.

A survey of people of HIV showed workplace discrimination is a major concern, said Catherine Hanssens, executive director for the Center for HIV Law and Policy in New York.

“More than half of the states do not have a single attorney dedicated to do free legal services for people with HIV,” Hanssens said.  “Getting a private attorney to file an employment discrimination lawsuit is difficult because employment litigation is very expensive. The defense is usually that there were many other reasons to fire you.”

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