At one point during his life, Mitchell Stillman was securely employed at American Eagle Airlines, hoping to work his way up the corporate hierarchy and, ultimately, acquire his pension once he retired. Today, he is working at a local drugstore and is struggling to make ends meet.
He says that his turn of misfortune is all American Eagle's fault, and has taken legal action to counter what he believes is discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation and his HIV status. ( Stillman has been HIV-positive for almost 20 years and had worked for American Eagle since October, 1992. )
According to a complaint Stillman filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, he was interviewed for a possible promotion to payroll manager for the company on May 4, 2005. ( From May 4 to June 17, he served as interim payroll manager at the company's O'Hare Airport facility. ) On June 17, Karla Chavez—who the complaint calls 'a less qualified candidate'—received the promotion. ( Stillman told Windy City Times that he was told that American Eagle 'wanted someone who was willing to move up in the company.' )
In late June, Stillman complained to American Eagle about Chavez's promotion; he then allegedly received a verbal warning. He added that, on July 8, he found out that the company had mixed his medical records with his personnel file since March 1. In August, Stillman allegedly received another warning, and he claimed that American Eagle disciplined him for complaining about the company's perceived discrimination.
On Aug. 11, 2005, Stillman filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, and on Aug. 29, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ( EEOC ) signed off on Stillman's right to sue. In late September, according to the complaint filed with the district court, American Eagle 'retaliated against [ Stillman ] for pursuing a claim with the EEOC and constructively terminated [ his ] employment in retaliation for his pursuit of his rights, in violation of [ the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ] .'
Stillman contends that he was not promoted because of American Eagle's biased agenda towards him. According to the complaint, the company 'has discriminated against the plaintiff because of his sexual orientation and because of his health issues, which [ the ] defendant is aware of.'
Another count alleges that American Eagle breached his privacy rights concerning 'his medical records, medical treatment, medical condition and personal information' by making the infomation part of his personnel file and circulating it. If this charge is proven, it would violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 ( HIPAA ) .
Stillman said that he is now seeking 'monetary relief,' although he contends that, at first, he 'just wanted them to stop the harassment when I worked there.' He also said that he attempted 'to reach out to the president of the company, Gerard Arvey, but he wanted to have nothing to do with me. His secretary wouldn't even put me through to him.'
Tim Kincaid, manager of corporate communications for American Airlines, told Windy City Times that 'Mr. Stillman's employment was terminated because he threatened a co-worker. ( American Eagle Airlines is the regional partner of American Airlines. ) His sexual orientation and HIV status had absolutely no bearing on the decision to end his employment. The Illinois Human Rights Commission/Chicago Human Rights Commission found no merit to his accusation.' ( Stillman denies ever making a threat. ) Kincaid commented that he could not elaborate further because 'litigation is still pending.' Kincaid also said that the lawsuit's charges surprise him because 'for five consecutive years, American Airlines and American Eagle have earned a perfect 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index.'
Since being terminated from American Eagle, life has been rough for Stillman. For a while, he worked at a local CVS to make ends meet. Then things took an even darker turn on Feb. 21, 2007, when he was evicted from his Lakeview apartment. He currently resides near Aurora, Ill., and told Windy City Times on Feb. 21 that he now has no job because 'I can't commute for a part-time CVS job from Aurora.'
Stillman is set to argue his case in district court on June 4.