More than 35,000 people have called for the resignation of the regional director of Detroit's Great Expressions Dental Care after a former employee claimed he was subjected to horrific levels of HIV-related discrimination while on the job.
According to the Change.org petition, James White was "banned from touching doorknobs, was followed around by coworkers with bottles of Lysol, and subjected to sudden and abrupt schedule changes" after being diagnosed with HIV, even though he did not work directly with patients in his position as a billing clerk. While he endured the on-the-job discrimination for seven months, the 26-year-old White was terminated from his position as a billing clerk for "excessive, unexcused absences" after being hospitalized for a week.
"I felt like my character was destroyed,” White told POZ earlier this month. "I went from wanting to be an activist -- someone who spoke to groups about HIV -- to someone who didn’t want to leave my room for six months."
The petition, which currently has about 37,470 signatures, was started by Jim Harris, a University of Oklahoma student who also directs an HIV/AIDS group on his campus. "It's absolutely tragic and shocking that thirty years after HIV was first discovered, we're still seeing vile acts of discrimination toward those who are HIV-positive," Harris is quoted by The Ionia Sentinel-Standard as saying. "Nobody should have to experience the type of discrimination and harassment that James White suffered. This is too atrocious a crime not to evoke public outrage."
According to MLive, White has received a “right to sue” letter following a lengthy Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigation, and his lawyers are in the process of filing an anti-discrimination lawsuit.
UPDATE: HuffPost Gay Voices has received an exclusive statement from Todd Gustke, Vice President of Human Resources at Great Expressions Dental Centers. "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," the statement reads. "Recently, numerous public and false allegations have been made in an online campaign seeking to paint Great Expressions Dental Centers in a negative light...we are confident that the Court will find these accusations to be without merit."
Gustke goes on to note that it is "not our corporate policy to not comment on employees and former employees in the media or online, especially on issues related to employees' health status."
HIV/AIDS advocates have condemned the national chain, which operates 150 offices in Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, and Virginia. "HIV is not spread by casual contact or touching surfaces other people may touch. We're glad that the former employee is standing up for his rights," Peter Kronenberg, vice president for communications for the National Association of People with AIDS, told POZ. "[If the allegations prove to be true], he sends a message to other employers and HIV-positive employees everywhere that workplace discrimination is unacceptable."