“You Have HIV? You’re Outta Here!” Delta Airlines on the Hook for $1.3 Million in Damages to Terminated Employee
A federal jury in Nevada recently awarded a former Delta Air Lines, Inc. employee just shy of $1.3 Million after finding the airline failed to accommodate his HIV-related medical condition.
Joseph Lewis was an aviation maintenance technician who had accused Delta of firing him after he missed some work due to his HIV. Lewis allegedly missed work after he was denied coverage of his HIV medication by Delta’s insurance company, and was therefore unable to properly treat his condition. Delta allegedly failed to accommodate Lewis’ illness and terminated his employment upon learning of it.
Initially diagnosed HIV-positive in May 2012, Lewis was able to control the symptoms of the illness by taking medication which allowed him to continue working normally. Two months after learning of his illness, however, Lewis was suddenly denied coverage for his prescription. Over the course of the next few weeks without his medication, Lewis became increasingly ill and was sent home from work.
Lewis approached a human resources manager for help getting his medication, but instead of addressing his problem, the HR manager focused on his truancy and absenteeism. Delta fired Lewis as a result.
In his suit, Lewis argued absenteeism was a pretextual reason for discharge and Delta’s true reason was his HIV disability and its unwillingness to provide accommodation for that condition. In October 2017, a federal jury agreed, ruling in favor of Lewis on both claims, and awarding him $480,000 in compensatory damages and $800,000 in punitive damages.
For employers, this case is a good reminder of just how costly an illegal firing can be. Employers should contact competent labor and employment counsel before terminating an employee who has a disability. Joseph Lewis is not alone. Many employees have collected large settlements and jury awards from employers who have done just what Delta did. Therefore, employers should contact competent labor and employment counsel before terminating an employee who requests additional defined leave after he or she has exhausted FMLA. Many employers have paid costly settlements and jury awards based on this exact scenario.
Brody and Associates regularly provides counsel on the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as other civil rights issues and employment laws in general. If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 203.454.0560.