Former Tennessee police officer sues after department rescinds job offer because he has HIV

Jul 25, 2023, 12:31 PM | Updated: 12:56 pm

A former Memphis police officer of the year has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Nashville Police Department, claiming it violated federal law by rescinding a job offer after learning he has HIV.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in federal court in Nashville, said the officer presented a letter from his health care provider showing that his HIV status should not disqualify him from employment. The officer, identified only by the pseudonym John Doe, has successfully suppressed the virus with medication and that his viral load is undetectable, according to the letter.

“Undetectable means un-transmittable,” the letter states. It adds that, “He remains in great health and this virus will not and has not ever effected his job performance or duties.”

Nashville’s legal department has not yet been served with the lawsuit and declined to comment on the case, associate director Allison Bussell said in an email Tuesday.

The department previously defended the decision to rescind Doe’s offer of employment in a position statement to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2021. It explains that the city’s charter requires all police officer candidates to meet the physical requirements for admission to the U.S. Army or Navy. Those regulations exclude people with HIV from enlisting and are currently the subject of a separate lawsuit by Lambda Legal.

According to Doe’s lawsuit, which was also brought by Lambda Legal, he began working as a Memphis police officer in 2017. In 2019, when his wife got a job in Nashville, he sought employment with the Metro Nashville Police Department. He was offered a job in February 2020 contingent upon a successful medical exam. When a blood test turned up his HIV status, the department rescinded the job offer. He appealed and lost.

Doe then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He received a notice of right to sue this past April. In the meantime, Nashville voted to amend its charter to remove the requirement that a police recruit comply with the U.S. military standards, although Lambda Legal attorney Jose Abrigo said in an interview Tuesday that the change has not yet been implemented.

Doe currently works as an officer with the Tennessee Highway Patrol, according to the lawsuit. He is seeking a court order to require Nashville police to hire him at the same salary and position he would have occupied if his employment offer had not been rescinded, including lost wages and other benefits. He also is seeking a damage award and legal fees. And he wants a court order preventing Nashville police from refusing to employ officers because they are HIV-positive.

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Former Tennessee police officer sues after department rescinds job offer because he has HIV