Being HIV-positive will no longer automatically disqualify police candidates in Tennessee city

A Tennessee city has agreed to update its civil service policies so that having HIV will no longer automatically disqualify someone from serving as a police officer or first responder

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Having HIV will no longer automatically disqualify someone from serving as a Metropolitan Nashville Police Officer, the Tennessee city agreed in a legal settlement on Friday.

The agreement settles a federal discrimination lawsuit filed last year by a former Memphis police officer of the year. The officer, who filed under the pseudonym John Doe, said Nashville police rescinded a job offer in 2020 upon learning that he had HIV. That was in spite of a letter from his health care provider saying he would not be a danger to others because he had successfully suppressed the virus with medication to the point that it could not be transmitted.

At the time, Nashville's charter required all police officer candidates to meet the physical requirements for admission to the U.S. Army or Navy. Those regulations exclude people with HIV from enlisting and are currently the subject of a separate lawsuit by Lambda Legal, which also represented Doe. Since then, Nashville has voted to amend its charter.

In the Friday settlement, Nashville agreed to pay Doe $145,000 and to rewrite its civil service medical examiner’s policies. That includes adding language instructing medical examiners to “individually assess each candidate for their health and fitness to serve" as first responders or police officers.

“Medicine has progressed by leaps and bounds, allowing people living with HIV to live normal lives and there are no reasons why they cannot perform any job as anyone else today,” Lambda Legal attorney Jose Abrigo said in a statement. "We hope this settlement serves as a testament to the work we need to continue to do to remove stigma and discrimination and update laws to reflect modern science.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department last month sued the state of Tennessee over a decades-old felony aggravated prostitution law, arguing that it illegally imposes tougher criminal penalties on people who are HIV positive. Tennessee is the only state that imposes a lifetime registration as a "violent sex offender" on someone convicted of engaging in sex work while living with HIV.