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Houston nightclub forced to pay nearly $140K for firing employee after unlawful HIV test inquiry

HOUSTON – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced on Monday that Diallo’s of Houston, a Houston-area nightclub and party venue, will pay $139,366 and furnish other relief as a result of an EEOC disability discrimination lawsuit.

The court awarded all the relief sought by EEOC, including $89,366 in back pay and other pecuniary losses to the employee, plus compensatory damages for her mental pain and suffering and punitive damages totaling an additional $50,000.

“It is a violation of federal law to make a disability-related inquiry unrelated to the employee’s job requirements or to any legitimate business necessity,” explained EEOC’s regional attorney in Houston, Rudy Sustaita. “EEOC will keep fighting such invasive and unfair probing by employers.”

In its lawsuit, the EEOC charged that Diallo’s violated federal law when it forced an employee to provide medical documentation to prove she was not HIV-positive, and then fired her when she failed to provide such documentation.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed the lawsuit on Sept. 29.

The EEOC said the nightclub violated federal anti-discrimination laws when it forced an employee to provide medical documentation to prove that she was not HIV-positive.

The attorney in charge of the case, EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Connie Wilhite Gatlin, added, “Employers may no longer rely on outdated and meritless assumptions about HIV to discriminate against employees. A demand for disability-related information without any legitimate reason is simply illegal.”

When the employee failed to provide the documentation, she was unlawfully fired, according to the suit.

The court also granted EEOC’s requested injunctive relief prohibiting Diallo’s from engaging in future disability discrimination, and ordered that the nightclub institute policies, practices and programs to ensure equal employment opportunities for qualified persons with disabilities. The court also awarded EEOC its court costs.

“It is starkly unfair as well as unlawful to force an employee to prove that she does not have an ailment because it heard she might have it,” said Rayford O. Irvin, district director of EEOC’s Houston district office. “Federal law makes clear the parameters under which an employer may use medical exams, and Diallo’s clearly violated them.”

According to the lawsuit, Diallo's owner/manager approached the employee and demanded, on two separate occasions, that the employee provide documentation to show that she was not HIV-positive after hearing that she might have the virus. The owner told the employee that she must provide the documentation or she would be fired.

“An employer cannot make business decisions affecting an employee who it heard had a disability such as HIV based on generalized assumptions and unsupported conclusions about the effects of the possible disability on the workplace," Jim Sacher, EEOC’s regional attorney in Houston, said. "Knee-jerk reactions to such disabilities – especially if the supposed condition is based on hearsay – are not only outdated, they are illegal.”

The employee did not provide the documentation, and was fired, according to the lawsuit.

File: EEOC Diallo's