TSA Claims Applicant Unfit To Screen Baggage
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FORT LAUDERDALE – The American Civil Liberties Union today appealed a decision by the Transportation Security Administration to refuse a job to an Air Force Veteran because he has HIV. In a fax to the ACLU, TSA claims it denied Michael Lamarre a job as a baggage handler in order to protect his health because his lowered immune system made him vulnerable to infectious diseases at the airport. TSA claimed among other reasons that the fact that Lamarre is taking three antiviral medications is evidence that he has a suppressed immune system.
“Having lived with HIV for nearly two decades, I’ve had to deal with my share of ignorance about HIV,” said Lamarre. “But it’s especially hurtful when it is the government that I have served and want to help protect that shows such lack of basic knowledge.”
On June 11, 2009, the ACLU filed an initial complaint on Lamarre’s behalf with the Equal Employment Opportunity Counselor for the Eastern Region of the TSA charging that the TSA was violating its own policy barring discrimination against people with disabilities. TSA refused to reconsider its position, sending a fax explaining its position on July 29, 2009. Today, the ACLU submitted a formal complaint on Lamarre’s behalf in accordance with the administrative appeal procedures.
After TSA denied Lamarre’s initial complaint, the ACLU filed a formal complaint with the TSA today explaining to the agency that its reasons for refusing to hire Lamarre are based on incorrect assumptions about the health risks of people with HIV. In the fax sent to the ACLU, TSA also claims that Lamarre’s CD4 count, a measure of the number of white blood cells that fight infection, indicates a greater likelihood of infection. This information was obtained by the TSA from Lamarre’s doctor who provided the information and submitted a signed form to TSA affirming that HIV would not interfere with Lamarre’s ability to perform the duties of a baggage screener.
“TSA’s justifications for refusing to hire Michael indicate a lack of understand in what it means to have HIV,” said Robert F. Rosenwald, Jr., Director of the LGBT Advocacy Project at the ACLU of Florida. “Michael has been employed consistently throughout the entire time he has had HIV without it affecting his ability to work. It is supremely misguided of TSA to deny him the opportunity to earn a living just because he’s taking medication and his CD4 count falls below some arbitrary threshold.”
Lamarre has lived with HIV for 19 years. His viral load is nearly undetectable and he has never had any of the medical conditions associated with AIDS. Just last November he completed a 165-mile bicycle ride for charity in just 2 days.
“The typical combination drug therapy for HIV is three antiretroviral medications, and this therapy allows people with HIV to lead productive lives.” said Dr. Margaret Fischl, MD, director and principal investigator of the AIDS Clinical Research Unit at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “The fact that someone is receiving this treatment doesn’t mean that they are any more vulnerable to infection.”
In the spring of 2008, Lamarre applied online for a baggage screening position at the Fort Lauderdale airport with the TSA. He passed an aptitude test in November 2008, and then underwent a comprehensive security clearance. In March 2009, he was finally invited to come in for an interview. At the interview, which included further testing, he was told that he would have to pass a physical. Lamarre was required to disclose that he has HIV at the physical. As a result, he was told to submit additional information from his doctor, including his most recent lab results and a form from his doctor stating that his HIV would not interfere with his ability to perform the duties of as baggage screener, which he did.
Shortly after submitting the additional information, Lamarre received a letter from Comprehensive Health Services, the contractor who administered the physical, saying that he was disqualified for the job because of his HIV status. A copy of the letter is available here. During follow-up calls to Comprehensive Health Services, he was told that the reason he was rejected is because his HIV status makes him more susceptible to virus and infections and that it was for his own benefit.
A copy of the complaint filed by the ACLU, the fax outlining TSA’s reasons for refusing to hire Lamarre and other paperwork submitted in the case is available on our case profile page. Additionally, a YouTube video featuring an interview with Lamaree can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swNSRt4yXEg.
In addition to Rosenwald, Lamarre is being represented by Shelbi Day, a staff attorney with the LGBT Advocacy Project of the ACLU of Florida; James Esseks, co-director of the ACLU’s AIDS Project; and Rose Saxe, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s AIDS Project.