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Employment Discrimination and AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome): Is AIDS a Handicap Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act?

NCJ Number
University of Florida Law Review Volume: 38 Issue: 4 Dated: (Fall 1986) Pages: 649-672
P Mitchell
Date Published
24 pages
Protecting employees with AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) or other communicable diseases would further the legislative purpose underlying section 504 of the 1973 Federal Rehabilitation Act by prohibiting employment decisions based on irrational fears, prejudice, or stereotypes.
In Nassau County School Board v. Arline, the U.S. Supreme Court has the opportunity to include persons with communicable diseases (in this case tuberculosis) within the Rehabilitation Act's protection. By interpreting the term 'handicapped individual' to encompass persons infected with tuberculosis as a communicable disease, the Court would establish a precedent potentially applicable to victims of AIDS-related discrimination. This would not, as the Department of Justice has suggested, increase the risk of AIDS transmission, because under section 504, employers could still make reasonable accommodations to ensure safety in the workplace. In an epilogue, this article notes that the U.S. Supreme Court did affirm the lower court's decision that tuberculosis is a 'handicap' under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The Court, however, declined to rule on whether an AIDS carrier would be physically impaired within the meaning of section 504 or whether contagiousness alone would qualify as a section 504 handicap. 230 footnotes.