HIV Dental Hygienist Appeal Turned Aside

May 28, 2002 ( - A Georgia dental hygienist fired after being diagnosed as HIV-positive has lost his bid to have his lawsuit reviewed by the US Supreme Court.

Justices turned away Spencer Waddell’s request to reconsider an opinion from the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which had upheld Waddell’s firing, a Dow Jones news report said.

Waddell claimed his dismissal by Valley Forge Dental Associates violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA requires employers to accommodate handicapped workers, but not those who pose a “significant risk” to others.

Sharp Instruments

The federal appeals court and an Atlanta federal court judge had both sided with Valley Forge, which claimed that Waddell would pose a danger. Dental patients often bled during routine cleansing and hygienists such as Waddell routinely work around sharp instruments, the judges said.

The appeals court found that there was a “specific, theoretically sound possibility of transmission” because Waddell could accidentally be bitten, or cut himself with an instrument while working.

“Because there was such a possibility of transmission,” the court concluded, ” the risk involved was significant due to the fatal nature of HIV.”

No Threat

For his part, Waddell claimed that he didn’t represent a threat and pointed out that there have been no reports of HIV transmission from hygienist to patient. Waddell was diagnosed in 1997.

Waddell’s appeal was backed by the American Dental Association, which said that dentists or hygienists with HIV don’t pose significant risks to patients when appropriate infection control procedures are followed.

Once alerted to Waddell’s HIV-positive status, Valley Forge Dental offered him a clerical job at a reduced salary. He declined and the lawsuit followed. He’s currently working as a hygienist at another dental clinic, his attorneys said in court papers.