Appeals Court Revives American Airlines HIV Employment Suit

March 8, 2005 ( - A federal appeals court has breathed new life into a lawsuit by three California men who claimed American Airlines denied them jobs as flight attendants because they are HIV positive.

>A unanimous three-judge panel of theUS 9 th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a decision dismissing the suit by US District Judge Phyllis Hamilton and sent the case back to Hamilton for more hearings, according to a news report in The Recorder, a legal publication.

While the appeals court panel was not asked to decide if the air carrier had violated state and federal anti-discrimination laws, the judges nonetheless blasted American, saying that its hiring practices appear at odds with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) andCalifornia’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), as well as the state constitutional right to privacy.

Circuit Judge Raymond Fisher, writing for the court, said that job applicants aren’t required to tell potential employers upfront about their illnesses.

“Many hidden medical conditions, like HIV, make individuals vulnerable to discrimination once revealed. TheADA and FEHA allow applicants to keep these conditions private until the last stage of the hiring process,” Fisher wrote. “Applicants may then choose whether or not to disclose their medical information once they have been assured that as long as they can perform the job’s essential tasks, they will be hired.”

According to the appeals opinion, none of the three plaintiffs disclosed their HIV status until the end of the application process after they had all received conditional job offers. After blood tests uncovered elevated “mean corpuscular volumes,” which can indicate a variety of medical conditions, American officials asked the applicants if they were HIV-positive. When each answered yes, American Airlines rescinded their job offers. The opinion said airline officials told the men that the job offers had been pulled back because they had waited so long to disclose their medical conditions.

The judges said the job offers were “not real” because the applicants were also still undergoing background checks along with the medical screening. They should not have been penalized for refusing to disclose their HIV status, according to the judges.

The opinion in the case, Leonel v. American Airlines, Inc., is  here.