POZ Exclusives : Detroit Man Alleges HIV Discrimination By Lysol-Spraying Dental Clinic Coworkers - by Todd Heywood

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December 8, 2011

Detroit Man Alleges HIV Discrimination By Lysol-Spraying Dental Clinic Coworkers

by Todd Heywood

Lysol Local attorneys in Detroit are preparing to sue the national, privately-owned Great Expressions Dental Centers for what they say is the worst case of alleged HIV-related job discrimination they have ever handled.

And while the company denied any wrong doing, the Detroit office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) agreed with James White and his attorneys that there was reasonable cause to believe the dental company with clinics in Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, Connecticut, Virginia and Massachusetts had unlawfully discriminated against White.

In a letter from the Commission, White was informed:

“Based upon the above and the record as a whole, there is reasonable cause to believe that the Charging Party was disciplined, denied reasonable accommodation, and discharged due to his disability, in violation of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended.”

James White, 26, had been working for Great Expressions for about six months as an office employee when he tested positive. As result of the diagnosis, White moved quickly into care, arranging appointments to make sure he was healthy.

He requested time off for the appointments, and the time was approved. But his office manager inquired as to why he had all the medical appointments.

“I told her I had tested positive for HIV; I thought it would be easier for me in the long run,” White says. “I asked her not to say anything to anyone.”

Days later, the company’s regional director called White into his office.

“He said, ‘I hear you have AIDS,’” White says the doctor said to him. White says he explained that he was HIV positive, to which the doctor replied that there was no difference between HIV and AIDS. “He then said it was OK because I did not work in back with the patients.”

And thus began what White says was a seven month decline into hell that “degraded me as a person.”

He says he was prohibited from touching doorknobs in the office. Staff members followed him around with Lysol, spraying and wiping down the surfaces he touched. He was subjected to unexpected changes in his schedule—called and told to come in later than scheduled, or to leave earlier than expected. When he complied with the scheduling offers, he was written up for unexcused absences.

After months of this, he said he was overwhelmed.

His health took a turn for the worse, and he was hospitalized for a week. During that time, the clinic decided to fire him. They called him the day before he was to return to work and informed him that he was fired for excessive unexcused absences.

“I felt like my character was destroyed,” he says. “I went from wanting to be an activist—someone who spoke to groups about HIV—to someone who didn’t want to leave my room for six months.”

His lawyer Nicole Thompson says that “it’s very clear [White] has been traumatized by this.”

Thompson notes he has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and White himself says he continues to see mental health professionals weekly to address his concerns. He still has trouble going into public places. For example, White says he “blacks out” when he goes to the grocery store and doesn’t remember being there. Right before the blackouts, White says, he feels like people are following him around and sanitizing everything he touches or that people are talking about him.

Thompson says that while Great Expressions declined an agreement settlement offered by the EEOC, neither she nor White is undeterred. The settlement agreement included a large cash settlement, including more than $140,000 in compensatory damages and $45,000 in punitive damages. In addition, the company would have been required to post notice of the agreement as well as train staff on HIV and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Great Expressions Dental Centers spokesman Michael Galperin said the company does not discuss current or former employees and declined further comment on the case.

“We have the right to sue letter from the EEOC, and we expect to file something in the federal court by the holidays,” Thompson says. “We’re in it for the long haul. If we have to take it all the way to trial, we will take it all the way to trial.”

White’s case is already drawing national attention.

“There’s simply no excuse for discrimination. It promotes HIV stigma, which keeps many people who know they are HIV positive from seeking treatment because they are afraid their health care details will be leaked to their employers, and it makes others afraid even to get tested and know their status,” said Peter Kronenberg, vice president for communications for the National Association of People with AIDS. “In a nutshell, stigma kills. HIV is not spread by casual contact or touching surfaces other people may touch. We’re glad that the former employee is standing up for his rights. [If the allegations prove to be true], he sends a message to other employers and HIV-positive employees everywhere that workplace discrimination is unacceptable.”

Search: Great Expressions Dental Centers, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC, discrimination, James White, Nicole Thompson, Michael Galperin, Detroit, Michigan

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  comments 1 - 15 (of 29 total)     next > >>

PAUL FRANCIS, Manchester U.K, 2012-02-11 17:21:34
I live in Manchester in the United Kingdom and have worked for a corporate company selling office space and the staff you knew I was openly gay and worked with an all female staff, I became H.I.V after leaving the company and my Boss found out through my medical records regarding my status and lost all my friends within,that was in 2004 and still no one speaks to me, I myself did not tell my bosses regarding my status as I had left their employment but they found out anyway.

Frank Lopez, antioch, 2012-02-08 15:49:25
I live here in calif and I have been looking for help ...No Help from the EEOC ..I am HIV and told my manager ..I was asked to have my doctor write a letter saying its ok that i can touch things and its ok I was able to work for them,I was bullied for about a yr,car vandelized and also exposed to memebers,assaulted in a back storage room,local police couldnt help me,Please Please can someone help me....Living here in calif I am unable find any help ...

TracyGee, Detroit, 2012-02-07 14:21:09
I am so sorry to hear that in this day of education, that people are still so ignorant about HIV/AIDS. I remember being in third grade (over 15 years ago) and my teacher explaining that AIDS/HIV cannot be transferred through touching or breathing the same air. I also am ashamed of the management, who could condone and get involved in such inhumane actions. I would not recommend this place to anyone. I am also letting everyone I know about this in hopes that they too will protest.

John germano, Providence, 2012-01-25 16:32:29
I hope he get paid big.

Thomas, Atlanta, 2012-01-23 08:08:24
It is Amazing, to see such behavior, but it is true, after learning about my status, people did not want to be in an elevator, for fear of breathing the same "Air" I now ride the elevator alone... Education is the only thing that can stop this and if it does not happen soon, isolationists will push for a "Round up" of positive people so they can "live together and not risk the lives of everyone else" does that sound insane, sure, but this is what will happen if we do nothing at all. but wait..

clod hopper, nowhere, 2012-01-21 12:06:28
Well, it just goes to show you, you can take the jungle out of the boy, but not the boy out of the jungle!!! Keeep your big mouth shut at work at at other places too!! It is no one's business!!! Even if giving head at area porn shops....NOTHING GOOD ABOUT HAVING HIV!! you dumb ass biatches...and why is there no picture or photo of a "James White?"...is the story fabricated and made up to make us believe stigma exists?????!!! Hmmmmmnnmmm....

Jason, Turlock, 2012-01-19 15:45:00
when i was in Tx a manager didnt want to touch anything i bought for co workers and he knew i was + so he told another im not gonna touch what he touched... that pissed me off people are so stupid

James in Oregon, Oregon, 2012-01-17 18:36:51
Am HIV+ and was a pharmacy manager with Walmart and told my district manager that I was probably positive. Within 2 days they had our store do 2 blood born pathogen modules in the HR room. Calls to other local stores showed that these stores had no required modules at that time. Then came the harrasement within the pharmacy and validated by two hand written letters by fellow pharmacy staff which HR ignored. Finally had to leave due to the harrasment and to protect my health. Would NEVER divulge!

DoYourResearch, Phoenix, 2012-01-17 09:47:40
That's pretty sad when the DOCTOR this company hired doesn't know the difference between HIV and AIDS..... Isn't that something that is taught in medical school? Knowing corporate america the doctor probably doesn't even have a high school diploma.

nora, moss point, 2012-01-12 20:17:45
I do not reveal my status to my employers that private. I don't know whats growing in their blood why should they know whats in mines!!!!

Carol, No City, 2011-12-23 17:07:19
I am also HIV positive and work in health care. I am very healthy and follow universal precautions religiously. To avoid the stigma associated with HIV, only my partner knows my status. I have not told anyone else.

Anthony Trocchia, Brooklyn, NY, 2011-12-23 01:37:24
I'm a severely physically disabled male and I've had countless HIV+ Personal Care Attendants since the early 1990s. Never have I been at risk of infection.

Katherine White, Windsor, 2011-12-22 08:44:36
I think this establishment needs to be educated on discrimimation and I am in complete support of Mr. White.

Nina Wolfson, El Dorado Hills, 2011-12-21 21:47:59
Unfathomable ignorance on the part of the office workers. Guessing most of them consider themselves "good Christians" too. DESPICABLE.

nhf7170, New York, 2011-12-21 21:22:04
He should press assault charges against anyone who sprayed him. There also may be some HIPAA violations here. Given the stupidity on display here, I'd be concerned about the quality of care provided by these McDentists.

comments 1 - 15 (of 29 total)     next > >>

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