HIV-positive man to sue dental clinic over harassment

2012 01 06 16 39 01 786 Lysol Disinfectant 70

The lawyer for an HIV-positive man who worked as an office assistant in a Great Expressions Dental Center in Detroit is preparing to sue the chain for HIV-related job discrimination.

James White, 26, claims he was subjected to "systematic abuse and harassment" by co-workers after they became aware of his HIV status. White had been working for Great Expressions for about six months when he tested positive for HIV, according to his attorney, Nicole Thompson. When he requested time off for medical appointments, his office manager inquired why.

White told her that he had tested positive for HIV but asked her not to tell anyone, according to Thompson. Shortly afterward, a regional director of the company asked him about it, saying he had heard that White had AIDS, Thompson told The director told him it was not important because he did not have contact with patients, White said.

But over the next seven months, White claims he was subjected to degrading treatment, including being told not to touch doorknobs in the office and being followed around by other employees who used Lysol spray to wipe down surfaces he touched, Thompson said.

White said he was also subjected to unexpected changes in his schedule and was written up for unexcused absences when he complied with the schedule changes.

When White's health forced him to be hospitalized for a week, his manager called him the day before he was to return to work and told him his employment was being terminated due to excessive unexcused absences.

White subsequently filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which ruled in 2011 that there was "reasonable cause" to believe he had been subject to discrimination because of his HIV status.

Great Expressions rejected an EEOC settlement agreement that included more than $140,000 in compensatory damages and $45,000 in punitive damages, according to Thompson.

Fighting back

White's case has drawn nationwide attention: As of December 21, more than 40,000 people had signed an online petition started by James Harris, a student at the University of Oklahoma, on demanding that Great Expressions apologize and pay White some restitution. But the company was able to get the petition shut down, according to a story on A new petition has since been posted on

In December, Great Expressions Vice President Todd Gustke issued a statement denying White's allegations and claiming the company does not discriminate:

Great Expressions takes pride in being an equal opportunity employer -- not just in adherence to the law, but because we believe it makes us a better company. In order to provide equal employment and advancement opportunities to all individuals, employment decisions at Great Expressions Dental Centers are based on merit, qualifications, and abilities.

Recently, numerous public and false allegations have been made in an online campaign seeking to paint Great Expressions Dental Centers in a negative light. This malicious campaign has resulted in emails and harassing telephone calls to our employees and shareholders.

Great Expressions has also started its own legal action, seeking a court declaration in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan that it did not discriminate or violate the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Great Expressions operates 150 offices and employs more than 1,900 people -- including gays and lesbians -- in seven states, Gustke noted.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has concluded that the only health risk posed by HIV-infected people is through an accidental needle prick.

"It is important to remember that casual, everyday contact with an HIV-infected person does not expose healthcare workers or anyone else to HIV," according to the CDC's website. "For healthcare workers on the job, the main risk of HIV transmission is through accidental injuries from needles and other sharp instruments that may be contaminated with the virus; however, even this risk is small."

Scientists have estimated that the risk of infection from a needle stick is less than 1%, according to the CDC.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued guidelines regarding bloodborne pathogens such as HIV that require employers to have worksite plans that protect employees.

White has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and is currently unemployed, according to Thompson.

Page 1 of 347
Next Page