( Atlanta, March 26, 2015 ) Lambda Legal and Gregory Packaging, Inc. today jointly announced the resolution of a lawsuit filed on behalf of Chanse Cox, who was dismissed from his job as a machine operator at Gregory Packaging's Suncup juice manufacturing facility in Georgia after reporting he has HIV.
In addition to $125,000 compensation for Cox, Gregory Packaging acknowledged that the federal government has determined there is nothing about Cox's HIV status that presents a threat to the health or safety of Cox, other employees or the consumers of Gregory Packaging's products. As a part of the settlement, Gregory Packaging agreed to conduct additional disability discrimination training for all employees at its Georgia facility over the next 24 months.
"We are pleased with this result and are confident Gregory Packaging will never let this happen again," said Greg Nevins, Counsel and Employment Fairness Strategist in Lambda Legal's Southern Regional Office in Atlanta. "Indeed, Gregory Packaging's acknowledgement that Chanse poses no threat to the health and safety of othersand its willingness to take a public stand on behalf of people living with HIVdemonstrates its commitment to doing right by people with HIV in the future."
In resolving the lawsuit, Gregory Packaging explained that Mr. Cox was dismissed based upon a federal regulation addressing food manufacturing and communicable diseases that Gregory Packaging believed required it to dismiss Mr. Cox; however, it later learned the regulation does not apply to HIV, because HIV is not a foodborne disease. "Our company does not discriminate against people living with HIV or any other kind of disability. We wanted to resolve this matter quickly and amicably to reaffirm this company value," said Shawn Early, General Manager and spokesperson for Gregory Packaging.
"As Gregory Packaging has now recognized, this type of exclusion should not still be happening in 2015. If the promise of equal opportunity contained in the Americans with Disabilities Act is to be fulfilled, outdated policies and misconceptions about HIV must be challenged and corrected," said Scott Schoettes, Lambda Legal's HIV Project Director. "And outdated notions, fears and stereotypes must give way to accurate and up-to-date medical knowledge about HIV. We are pleased that Gregory Packaging's position reflects the current science of HIV and recognition that people living with HIV can be valued employees. All employers should follow their lead."
Chanse Cox was hired by Gregory Packaging in February 2012. In July 2012, when a fellow employee jumped to a conclusion that a harmless skin condition Cox had was AIDS-related, Cox decided to put an end to rumors by informing his plant manager that he indeed was HIV-positive. He was quite certain this would have no effect on his employment, because he knew his HIV had no impact on his ability to perform his duties as a machine operator. Shortly thereafter, during a site visit by Gregory Packaging's Vice President of Operations, Cox was called in to a meeting with management and told that his employment was being terminated as a result of his HIV status based upon the company's interpretation of federal regulations governing food manufacturing practices.
In October 2012, Cox filed a complaint with the EEOC, which conducted an investigation and found reasonable cause to believe that Gregory Packaging's termination of Cox violated the Americans with Disabilities Act ( ADA ). Subsequently, the EEOC decided in September 2014 to file suit against Gregory Packaging for violating the ADA, the federal statute which protects people with disabilities, including those living with HIV, from discrimination. In November 2014, the court granted Lambda Legal's motion to intervene in the case on Cox's behalf.
"This is great news. When my employer fired me, I knew it was wrong. I am glad I stood up for myself, and I hope that with this resolution and joint statement, we have sent a message that will prevent others living with HIV from facing the kind wrongful termination I experienced," said Lambda Legal client Chanse Cox.
The case is EEOC v. Gregory Packaging.
Scott Schoettes, HIV Project Director, and Gregory R. Nevins, Counsel, are handling the case for Lambda Legal.
Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.