HIV-positive bisexual man sues his former employer

“John Doe,” an HIV-positive bisexual man, has filed suit against his former employer, claiming he was wrongfully demoted and subsequently terminated after his health status was discovered.

On April 7, Doe filed an 87-page lawsuit against Thermo Electric Co. in West Chester, Pa., at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The case has been assigned to Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg. A jury trial has been requested.

Doe worked as an inventory supervisor at Thermo Electric from 2011 to 2020. The company produces sensors that help control temperatures in various settings.

In February 2020, Doe was demoted to the position of quality control inspector after company officials discovered his HIV-positive status. In June 2020, Doe was fired, allegedly because of his LGBT status and his HIV status, according to the lawsuit.

Throughout his employment, Doe’s direct supervisor would make disparaging comments directed against the LGBT community, including using the words “faggots” and “fags,” and stating “That’s gay,” according to the lawsuit.

In January 2020, Doe allegedly heard his direct supervisor discussing his health status with another Thermo Electric employee. But the two men stopped speaking when they became aware of Doe’s presence, according to the lawsuit.

Moreover, a co-worker of Doe allegedly heard a company official discussing Doe’s health status. Doe’s lawsuit includes this statement from the co-worker: “While working for Thermo Electric as an engineer I overheard [a company official] discussing [Doe’s] HIV condition with someone in his office. This happened while looking for someone in the office next to [the official]. I overheard [the official] discussing [Doe’s] condition and medical insurance rate changes due to this. When I heard that, I didn’t know what to do. Because [Doe] is a longtime friend and I didn’t want him to get blindsided, I decided to tell him what I’ve just heard. His condition is not something he can control. No one should be discriminated [against] for something like this. Nor should his HIV condition be discussed as carelessly as it was discussed that day especially without his consent.”

Company officials allegedly complained about Doe taking excessive time off from work. Doe acknowledges taking some time off due to health issues but claims it wasn’t excessive. Doe alleges the reasons given by Thermo Electric for his firing were excuses to cover up discrimination. Those reasons include “burping,” “openly farting,” “disruption due to bodily functions/smells,” and “picking at or picking pimples,” according to the lawsuit.

On May 12, 2020, Doe’s direct supervisor told a human-resources manager he thought Doe suffered from borderline personality disorder. “Not a doctor — but he has many of the characteristics of someone with borderline personality disorder,” the supervisor allegedly stated.

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Tim Cwiek has been writing for PGN since the 1970s. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from West Chester State University. In 2013, he received a Sigma Delta Chi Investigative Reporting Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his reporting on the Nizah Morris case. Cwiek was the first reporter for an LGBT media outlet to win an award from that national organization. He's also received awards from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Newspaper Association, and the Keystone Press.