9th Circuit Court of Appeals Finds American Airlines May Have Violated ADA Discrimination and Privacy Laws in Refusing to Hire HIV Positive Flight Attendant Candidates

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The Ninth Circuit ruled on Friday March 4th in Leonel, Branton and Fusco v. American Airlines that American Airlines may have violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and California Privacy laws by refusing to hire HIV positive flight attendant candidates who did not reveal their medical status.

The Ninth Circuit ruled on Friday March 4th in Leonel, Branton and Fusco v. American Airlines (case numbers 03-15890, 03-15893, 03-15897) that American Airlines may have violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and California Privacy laws by refusing to hire HIV positive flight attendant candidates who did not reveal their medical status.

Flight Attendant candidates Walber Leonel, Richard Branton and Vincent Fusco, who all have the human immunodeficiency virus (“HIV”), applied for flight attendant positions with American Airlines (“American”). American interviewed them at its Dallas, Texas, headquarters and then issued them what it called “conditional offers of employment”, contingent upon passing both background checks and medical examinations. Rather than wait for the background checks, American immediately sent the candidates to its on-site medical department for medical examinations, where they were required to fill out medical history questionnaires and give blood samples. None of them disclosed his HIV-positive status or related medications. Thereafter, alerted by the appellants’ blood test results, American discovered their HIV-positive status and rescinded their job offers, citing their failure to disclose information during their medical examinations.

At the District Court, the candidates argued that American could not require them to disclose their personal medical information so early in the application process — before the company had completed its background checks such that the medical examination would be the only remaining contingency — and thus their nondisclosures could not be used to disqualify them. They further contend that American violated their rights to privacy under the California Constitution by conducting complete blood count tests (“CBC”s) on their blood samples without notifying them or obtaining their consent.

The District Court sided with American and dismissed the candidates claims finding that American did not violate any laws. Today, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court finding that American’s policy of requiring applicants to disclose their HIV status prior receiving a real job offer based upon the merits of their qualifications may violate the ADA and the analogous California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Further, the Ninth Circuit found that American may have violated the candidates’ right to privacy by failing to disclose the nature of the tests that it intended to perform on each candidate’s blood.

Todd Schneider, one of the attorneys for the candidates said “this historic opinion confirms that people with hidden disabilities cannot be forced to reveal their status unless and until an employer is prepared to make a real offer of employment.”

Guy Wallace, another attorney for the candidates said “we are very pleased that this court has reiterated that all citizens of the State of California have a right to keep their medical and health status private, and that an unscrupulous employer cannot just go ahead and do whatever blood tests they want without getting prior consent.”

Vincent Fusco, one of the flight attendant candidates said “I am so proud that I have been able to stand up and fight for the rights of people with HIV nationwide.”

Schneider & Wallace Attorneys at Law is a dedicated group of California trial lawyers committed to continuing the work of the civil rights movement through individual and class action litigation. For over a decade, our attorneys have handled matters in the areas of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) discrimination, class action lawsuits, employment discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, and class action litigation regarding dangerous drugs.

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Todd M. Schneider Or Guy B. Wallace
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