ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A Salt Lake City man who says his job offer to become an Alaska State Trooper was rescinded after he disclosed he was HIV positive filed a lawsuit in state court Thursday to get his position on the statewide police force and to prevent others from suffering similar alleged discrimination.
The lawsuit was filed electronically by Anchorage civil rights attorney Caitlin Shortell on behalf of a man only identified as John Doe, whose HIV is undetectable and untransmissible.
“There are no reservations about his ability to do the duties of the job, and he is completely fit,” Shortell said, adding he can work without accommodations.
Doe “seeks to challenge the constitutionality of the Alaska State Troopers’ rescission of a job offer based on his being a person who lives with HIV, in light of medical advancements that render HIV status irrelevant to a person’s ability to meet the criteria for entry and service at Alaska State Troopers in any capacity,” the lawsuit states.
It alleges violations of civil rights laws, the state and U.S. constitutions and the Alaska Human Rights Act. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the lawsuit, which, as of Thursday morning, had not yet appeared online.
Named as defendants are James Cockrell, the head of the troopers; the state of Alaska; the troopers, and Beacon Occupational Health and Safety, the troopers’ outside vendor.
The Department of Public Safety, which oversees the troopers, had not been served with the lawsuit as of Thursday, spokesman Austin McDaniel said in an email to The Associated Press.
However, he said the department stands by the decisions that were made in this case and “reject the notion that this individual was discriminated against.”
McDaniel said that because of the threat of litigation and privacy laws, they cannot go into specifics regarding this case.
“The public places immense trust in their law enforcement officers, and we review a large amount of information, including an individual’s criminal history, work history, psychological fitness, physical fitness, medical fitness, and truthfulness, as we select men and women to become Alaska State Troopers to ensure that they can maintain the public’s trust,” McDaniel said.
Aris Brimanis, the operations manager for Beacon in Anchorage, said the company did not have immediate comment.
According to the lawsuit, Doe wanted to be a law enforcement officer since his childhood, where he volunteered at the California Highway Patrol Academy and was an explorer with the local sheriff’s office during high school. He was working as a flight attendant when he applied to be a trooper in April 2020.
Six months later, he received a conditional offer of employment, the lawsuit said, detailing how he completed the required written exam, two physical ability tests, passed a background test and an oral board interview.
Doe also passed the written psychological test and interview, and then had to take a polygraph and medical exam as part of the conditions for employment, according to the lawsuit.
At the medical exam, Doe disclosed his disability status as a person living with HIV, the lawsuit said. He also provided to Beacon's nurse practitioner recent lab results and a note from his doctor saying he was able to perform all functions of a trooper without reasonable accommodation. However, the nurse practitioner noted on paperwork that Doe may require an accommodation.
The lawsuit said the practitioner initially wrote “no” to a question if she had any reservations about the candidate’s ability to perform the duties of the job, but then crossed that out and wrote “error,” noting the guidelines for a law enforcement officer. Doe argues the guidelines were out-of-date and didn’t reflect advances in medicine for those with HIV.
The next day, during a polygraph test, he was asked if he took medication, the lawsuit said. He said yes, but noted he felt this was a prohibited medical inquiry and he had provided medical information to the nurse.
He told the examiner he wasn’t comfortable disclosing his medical condition when asked what the medication was for. Doe then disclosed his HIV status to the examiner when told the interview process could be stopped if he refused, according to the court documents.
That polygraph was deemed inconclusive. He took another the following day, which he passed with no questions about his medical condition, the lawsuit said.
Doe said troopers later rescinded his conditional job offer, telling him there were better qualified applicants even though he already had received the conditional offer and, of the initial 245 applicants, Doe said he was one of the 10 finalists.
Doe said he was told other applicants had prior military experience and others had already been living in Alaska. Neither is a condition for employment, according to the lawsuit. Half of the 10 finalists offered jobs didn't live in Alaska, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit argues these reasons “were nothing more than a false pretext for unconstitutional discrimination based on Doe’s HIV status."
Mark Thiessen, The Associated Press