Lambda Legal to district court: Rescinding job offer due to HIV status is discrimination

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(Image by succo from Pixabay)

(Image by succo from Pixabay)

LAFAYETTE, La. — Last week, Lambda Legal urged a federal district court judge to find that a parish sheriff violated theAmericans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when he withdrew a job offer to a person with HIV.

Lambda Legal said in a press release that Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal rescinded a job offer for William “Liam” Pierce to serve as a sheriff’s deputy after learning that Pierce was a person living with HIV. While U.S. District Court Judge Michael Juneau denied the motion because the Sheriff had not yet been deposed and some facts remain in dispute, he also expressed skepticism regarding the Sheriff’s prospects for proving the legality of the office’s conduct. The case now proceeds to trial, scheduled for January 6, 2020.

“After a background check and series of interviews, the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office offered Liam a job contingent solely on a medical evaluation,” Lambda Legal Counsel and HIV Project Director Scott Schoettes said. “And really, why wouldn’t they? Liam’s experience in health and public safety work made him a very strong candidate. But then, after the medical evaluation that informed the Sheriff of Liam’s HIV status, the job offer was immediately rescinded. It is illegal to send an applicant for a medical evaluation before that person has cleared all the other hurdles in the application process, and it is illegal to refuse to employ someone based on their HIV status.  No matter how they try to justify the conduct, the Iberia Parish Sheriff withdrew the job offer directly after learning of Liam’s HIV status, and that’s illegal discrimination plain and simple. We look forward to making that case in court.”

Back in 2012, Pierce, who has long-term experience in health and public safety, applied for a position as a Sheriff’s Deputy with the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office, a job for which he was and is fully qualified. Shortly after his in-person interview, a captain informed Pierce he would be hired. However, after Pierce completed a medical examination that noted his HIV status—but acknowledged that he was able to perform the job without accommodation—the job offer was rescinded. Pierce filed a charge of discrimination under the ADA with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) a few months later.

In 2016, after investigating Pierce’s claim, the EEOC issued a Determination of Probable Cause stating that the evidence supported Pierce’s claim against the Iberia Parish Sheriff. In October, 2017, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit on behalf of Pierce against the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s office in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. Last week’s hearing involved oral argument on Lambda Legal’s motion for partial summary judgment.

Ackal has gained national notoriety during his more than 10 years as Iberia Parish sheriff, including dozens of allegations of rampant abuse of prisoners in his care. Although he was acquitted on criminal federal civil rights charges in 2016, he was kicked out of the state insurance pool that indemnifies Louisiana sheriffs – the Louisiana Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Program – shortly thereafter because he was costing the program too much in settlements of civil actions.

The case is Pierce v. Ackal. Read about the case here: https://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/pierce-v-ackal. Handling the case for Lambda Legal are Scott A. Schoettes and Anthony Pinggera, joined by co-counsel J. Dalton Courson and Annie G. McBride of Stone Pigman.

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