Saturday, July 14, 2007

ICRC Rules Against Bloomington Business In AIDS Discrimination Case

It isn't often you hear about an employment discrimination case where the Indiana Civil Rights Commission found against an employer, let alone one involving AIDS discrimination. The Bloomington Alternative reports that the ICRC ruled against a Bloomington business, Morrison's TV, in a case where the business owner was accused of firing Dean Mead a month after she learned Mead was HIV-positive. The Alternative reports:

Commission Deputy Director Christine Baca ruled on April 25 that “there is probable cause to believe that a discriminatory employment action in violation of the civil rights law has occurred.”

The case will either proceed to a formal hearing before the ICRC or to Monroe Circuit Court for trial. Both parties must agree for the case to go to court.

The business owner claimed she fired Mead because she didn't have enough work for him to do, but Baca found that to be pretext because he had been regularly employed by her full-time in the weeks leading up to his dismissal after Mead informed her he was HIV-positive.

You will note that the favorable ruling for Mead does not mean he will get his day in court. Under Indiana's weak civil rights law, the complaining party can take a responding party to court only if both parties consent to a trial. You won't be surprised to learn there are no recorded cases which have gone to trial. Instead, the Commission winds up hearing the case in an administrative proceeding. If you have to hire an attorney, Indiana law provides no right for you to recover your attorney's fees. And there's little teeth in the law to allow the Commission to impose tough sanctions against the party found to have violated Indiana's civil rights law. If the responding party is dissatisfied with the outcome, unlike the charging party, the responding party can appeal the decision to an Indiana court.

If Mead could have brought his case under federal law, he would have had a much better chance of getting made whole for suffering discrimination in the workplace. Because Mead's employer was a small business, it is not covered by federal laws like the Americans With Disabilities Act or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which would have allowed him to file a complaint with the EEOC. Regardless of whether the EEOC finds in your favor, you still have a right to file suit in federal court within 90 days after the EEOC concludes the investigation of your case and issues you a right to sue letter. Title VII also permits you to recover your attorney's fees if the court finds in your favor.

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