HIV-Positive Blood Technician Fights to Regain Job

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:05 PM EDT

( - An HIV-infected man who is fighting to regain his job as a blood technician has received a legal assist from the American Civil Liberties Union and a homosexual advocacy group.

In briefs filed Thursday, Lambda Legal and the ACLU told a federal appeals court in Denver that John Couture should have the same protections from discrimination as other people with disabilities.

The Bonfils Memorial Blood Center in Denver removed Couture from a training program for technicians who draw blood from donors after Couture told a supervisor he was HIV positive.

According to press reports, Couture volunteered the information before a training exercise because he didn't want to accidentally expose anyone to his blood. At the time, the technicians were practicing drawing blood from each other.

A lower court ruled in Bonfils' favor, Lambda Legal said, and Couture is now appealing.

"It is well established law that people with HIV are considered disabled because the disease affects major life activities," said Jon Givner, a staff attorney in Lambda Legal's HIV Project.

"HIV discrimination is irrational, it's hurtful, and it's usually based on fear and stereotypes. People with HIV need the same protections from discrimination that other people with disabilities have."

Lambda Legal's friend-of-the-court brief cites a range of cases where people with HIV have been protected under federal and state disability laws.

A staff attorney with the ACLU's AIDS Project said Couture "posed no real risk to blood donors," and she called his firing "disgraceful."

"HIV positive people need to be able to make a living and support themselves just like everyone else, and their livelihood shouldn't be at the mercy of irrational stereotypes," staff attorney Rose Saxe said in a press release.

The ACLU press release notes that even in the "incredibly unlikely event that a donor was exposed to the HIV virus, it is "unlikely" that the donor would become infected.

And if it did happen? "In the event of such an unheard of exposure in the blood-donor setting," the ACLU said, "there are also drugs that would further decrease the likelihood of infection if taken immediately after the exposure."

The group that is representing Couture, the Legal Center for People with Disabilities and Older People, said it hopes the court "sends a message to all employers confirming that the law doesn't allow people to be fired because of unfounded prejudice."

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