Company settles suit over firing

March 27, 1994|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,Sun Staff Writer

An Aberdeen food service company has agreed to settle a discrimination lawsuit with a former employee who said he was discharged because of rumors that he had the virus that causes AIDS.

The employee was later told that he would have to be tested to be reinstated, lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday.

The lawyers, Richard J. Pratt and William H. Briggs Jr. of Washington, asked U.S. District Judge Herbert Murray to dismiss the lawsuit after the company, HLJ Management Group Inc., agreed to pay $17,500 to settle the case. HLJ did not admit any guilt.

ACLU lawyers had filed the complaint on behalf of Edward L. Saddler of the 300 block of Walker Ave. in Aberdeen. Mr. Saddler was a part-time cook from Nov. 1, 1990, to Feb. 25, 1991, for the Kansas-based food service company under contract at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

According to the lawsuit filed in December 1992, Mr. Saddler's supervisor heard from co-workers that Mr. Saddler had the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

According to the suit, a supervisor told Mr. Saddler on Feb. 25, 1991, that his employment was being terminated because of the rumor circulated by co-workers and that he could not be reinstated until he was tested for HIV.

Mr. Saddler consented, and was tested for HIV Feb. 28, 1991. The test was negative, but Mr. Saddler declined to return to work in July 1991 and contacted the ACLU.

HTC The case opens the door, the lawyers said, for AIDS-discrimination lawsuits to be filed using older and more traditional complaints such as those of abusive discharge, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress rather than more recent anti-discrimination laws such as the Americans With Disabilities Act. Mr. Saddler suffered discrimination because his employer heard a rumor, Mr. Pratt said.

"The employer's requirement that he choose between his job and an irrelevant AIDS test was unfair and did him great damage," he said.

Ellen Brewood, director of operations for HLJ Management in Shawnee Mission, Kan., said Thursday that the events never happened as Mr. Saddler claimed.

"It was in our best interests to settle what we believe was a nuisance suit," she said.

Miss Brewood said HLG Management has an anti-discrimination policy.

"It was followed then and still is in force," she said.

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