Published February, 2012

Roe v. City of Atlanta, No. 11-11758 (11th Cir. Feb. 1, 2012)

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit here vacated the motion for summary judgment granted to the defendant by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, and remanded the claim to the district court. While the Court of Appeals did not rule on the merits of the plaintiff's employment discrimination claim, this decision highlights the importance of surviving a defendant's motion for summary judgment. This is especially crucial in HIV-related employment discrimination cases where, in the absence of hiring policies regarding persons living with HIV, the parties should have the opportunity to present evidence supporting or challenging claims of HIV-related discrimination.
In 2008, the plaintiff, Richard Roe, filed suit against the defendant, the City of Atlanta, in district court alleging violation of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the federal Rehabilitation Act after he was told during a pre-employment medical examination that his HIV-positive status disqualified him from being a police officer with the Atlanta Police Department. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant on two grounds: Mr. Roe failed to prove that he is not a direct threat due to his HIV status, and Mr. Roe failed to prove that he is a qualified individual irrespective of whether he is a direct threat.
On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the decision on two grounds. First, the court of appeals found that the district court did not give adequate evidentiary consideration to the City of Atlanta's admission that HIV was not a disqualifying condition for police officer applicants. The court found that this admission "lulled Roe into believing that he need not adduce evidence to distinguish his HIV status as non-serious," and that Roe should be given the opportunity to present such evidence.
Second, the court of appeals found that the district court, in ruling that Mr. Roe failed to prove whether he was qualified for employment, brought up a new issue that had not yet been raised. Neither Mr. Roe nor the City of Atlanta had discussed Mr. Roe's qualifications beyond the question of whether Mr. Roe's HIV status was a direct threat to the health and safety of others. The court of appeals conceded that a district court may raise new issues in deciding a motion for summary judgment; however, it must provide notice to both parties. The district court failed to do so here.