ACLU files complaint against Hair Cuttery over termination of HIV-positive employee

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland has filed a federal employment discrimination complaint against a Maryland hair salon on behalf of an employee who says he was fired for being HIV-positive.

Representatives for Ratner Cos., which owns the Hair Cuttery in Greenbelt, said in a statement he was fired for "repeated inappropriate behavior," including verbally abusing co-workers in front of clients. A company document outlining his HIV status as the cause for his termination — which the ACLU included in the complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — "inaccurately described the reason for his dismissal," they said.

In a statement released by the ACLU, Brandon Smith, an assistant manager at the salon before he was fired Aug. 4, denied the allegations about his behavior, saying the sole reason he was given was his HIV status.

The ACLU also requested a response from the state agency that regulates cosmetology licenses, saying Hair Cuttery representatives invoked a state regulation that allows salons to fire people with communicable diseases who pose a threat to clients. The Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation is reviewing the request, a spokeswoman said.

The ACLU said salon workers with HIV pose no threat to clients and that haircuts are "not exposure-prone procedures" based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards. It said case law is clear that firing someone based on HIV status from a job "where the risk of HIV transmission in a particular setting is unsupported by medical evidence" violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"You don't get HIV by having your hair cut, and we cannot allow unfounded fears and misconceptions to drive workplace discrimination against Marylanders living with HIV," said Deborah Jeon, the ACLU of Maryland's legal director, who is representing Smith.

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