Photograph by Steven Higgs
A former employee of Morrison’s TV and Appliances claims the business’s owner violated his rights when she fired him immediately after learning he was HIV-positive. The case is before the Indiana Civil Rights Commission, which has found enough evidence of discrimination for it to proceed.
The Indiana Civil Rights Commission (ICRC) has ruled that enough evidence of AIDS-related discrimination exists against a local business that a complaint against it should proceed.
Bloomington resident Dean Mead sued Morrison’s TV and Appliance on Dec. 16, 2005, alleging that owner Edie Morrison violated his civil rights when she fired him less than an hour after he informed her that he had tested HIV-positive.
Commission Deputy Director Christine Baca ruled on April 25 that “there is probable cause to believe that a discriminatory employment action in violation of the civil rights law has occurred.”
The case will either proceed to a formal hearing before the ICRC or to Monroe Circuit Court for trial. Both parties must agree for the case to go to court.
ICRC Chairman Gregory Kellam Scott ruled against Mead in a separate case in which Mead claimed that Morrison violated his housing rights by evicting him from a house he rented from her.
According to Baca’s Notice of Finding in the case, Mead was employed by Morrison’s on Sept. 14, 2005, when he tested positive for HIV. He said he “was employed as head of deliveries” by Morrison and “was terminated from his position immediately after informing her” of being HIV-positive, which is a disability under Indiana law.
Morrison denied that Mead was head of deliveries but acknowledged she terminated him. She said she relieved Mead of his duties because “there simply was no work” and “there were no job duties for (Mead) to perform,” Baca wrote.
But Baca found this explanation to be “pretext,” given that the evidence showed Mead had averaged 38 hours per week working at Morrison’s over the three weeks leading up to his termination.
“This appears to be an extraordinary amount of work for no work being available,” she wrote.
In Mead’s housing discrimination complaint, Morrison said Mead “was not responsible or dependable, so she walked across the street to tell him that there would be no further work,” Baca wrote.
Baca likewise rejected that claim. That Mead had worked “a total of 114.3 hours during the short time he was employed seems to indicate that (Mead) was dependable,” she wrote.
In yet another document submitted to the Division of Family and Children, Morrison cited “sickness and unable to perform” as reasons for Mead’s discharge.
“The available evidence shows that (Morrison) has provided the commission with two different reasons for (Mead’s) employment separation and gave yet a third reason for the separation in a form submitted to the Division of Family and Children,” Baca found.
With respect to his ability to work, Mead said he provided Morrison with “medical documentation of his disability with no work restrictions.”
Baca ruled: “The available evidence indicates that (Mead’s) request to continue employment was denied, and no accommodation efforts were made. The evidence does indicate that (Mead) was able to perform the essential functions of his job.”
Mead also claimed that Morrison told other employees about his illness. Morrison denied that allegation, and other Morrison’s employees submitted statements to the ICRC saying they had either learned of Mead’s illness from him or from other employees.
Baca made no findings with regard to who told whom about Mead’s illness.
But she concluded that Morrison’s “various answers to the complaint gives rise to suspicion of an unlawful employment practice and shows that (Morrison) made an adverse employment decision based on the perception that (Mead’s) disability would cause a problem.”
Mead filed his housing discrimination complaint with the ICRC on Dec. 9, 2005, alleging that Morrison “told him to leave” the home he rented from her after he told her of his test results.
While Scott said the evidence indicated that Morrison uses the house for storage and “has not rented the property for profit since the 1990s,” she acknowledged that she allowed Mead “to stay on her property temporarily.”
Mead admitted he did not have a lease and that he told Morrison “he would move by the weekend” after she told him he was no longer in her employ, Scott wrote.
A Morrison's spokesman declined comment since the case is in litigation.
Mead referred interview and photo request to his Indianapolis attorney, Kimberly Jeselskis, whose office declined comment.
Steven Higgs can be reached at .