Published April, 2012

Kentucky Retirement Systems v. Parker, No. 2011-CA-000329-MR (Ky. App., Apr. 27, 2012)

This is a decision by the Kentucky Court of Appeals affirming the circuit court's decision in favor of an HIV-positive employee denied disability retirement benefits. The denial was based in part on the employer deeming the employee's HIV a pre-existing condition and supporting this with the employee's admission that he had engaged in homosexual relations prior to becoming an employee. This decision is useful for employees challenging HIV-related employment benefits decisions made on the basis of pre-employment sexual behavior and improper medical evidence.
John Parker became an employee of the Laurel County Fiscal Court (part of the Kentucky Retirement Systems, or "Systems") in April 1996. In November 2005, he was hospitalized and diagnosed with PCP pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and HIV. The following month, he resigned and applied for disability retirement benefits, stating he was unable to continue work due to his HIV/PCP pneumonia and emphysema/COPD. The Kentucky Retirement Systems (Systems) denied Mr. Parker's application, finding that his emphysema and COPD were preexisting conditions. With regard to the HIV, the hearing officer noted that that Mr. Parker was first diagnosed with HIV nine years after he became an employee; however, the officer deemed the HIV a preexisting condition based on Mr. Parker's admission that he had engaged in homosexual relations before he was hired. The officer cited a medical journal article that stated it may take 10 years for HIV infection to develop into AIDS.
The court of appeals, affirming the circuit court, disagreed with Systems' argument that Mr. Parker had failed to prove that his disabling conditions did not preexist his employment. It found that Mr. Parker had proved this nonexistence of disease by way of the medical records he submitted prior to his employment. None of these records indicated he suffered from HIV or the other disabling conditions he listed on his application for benefits. Systems argued that Mr. Parker had "failed to get reasonable medical testing and treatment," but the court of appeals stated that such an argument would unreasonably obligate a healthy person to seek out unknown illnesses to avoid having to rely on the absence of medical evidence as proof that a condition did not exist. Here, the court provides an important defense where a court or party attempts to retroactively obligate a person to obtain so-called "reasonable medical testing and treatment" based on that person's HIV status.
The court of appeals found that the hearing officer erred in concluding that Mr. Parker's HIV status was a preexisting condition due to engaging in homosexual relations before he became an employee. The word "condition" does not encompass "behavior" such as sexual relations. It also found that in assessing Mr. Parker's application, the hearing officer improperly relied on medical journals written in the abstract or concerning another patient, since such journals do not constitute objective medical evidence. Reports by medical review physicians employed by Systems also do not constitute this evidence and should not have been used in the hearing officer's assessment.