Cirque du Soleil Offers To Rehire HIV-Positive Gymnast Fired Because of Perceived Threat to OthersCirque du Soleil on Friday said that it will offer to rehire an HIV-positive gymnast who was fired in spring 2003 because of concerns that his HIV-positive status could endanger other performers, the Los Angeles Times reports (Romney, Los Angeles Times, 1/31). Matthew Cusick said that he disclosed his HIV-positive status to Cirque shortly after his July 2002 hiring, underwent several medical evaluations and was found to be in good health and considered fully able to perform with the company. However, shortly before he was to begin performing in the company's Las Vegas show "Mystere," Cirque sent him a letter terminating his employment and stating that his HIV-positive status "will likely pose a direct threat of harm to others, particularly in the case of future injury" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/19/03). However, Cirque spokesperson Renee-Claude Menard on Friday said that the company now believes that Cusick's HIV-positive status would present "minimal" risk to other performers and audience members and that "there are no restrictions now for anyone with HIV at Cirque." Cirque's decision to reinstate Cusick comes in response to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's proposal for mediation in the case, the Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 1/31).
'Too Soon To Say'
In July 2003, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a federal discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Cirque on Cusick's behalf (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/19/03). EEOC on Thursday issued a proposal for mediation, and Cirque du Soleil plans to offer to reinstate the gymnast during mediation talks. Menard said, "Any job opening at the Cirque is now available for [Cusick]" (Donnelly, Montreal Gazette, 1/31). Cusick said it is "too soon to say" if he would accept Cirque's offer of reinstatement because he had heard of the offer only through a news release and had not been contacted directly, the AP/San Diego Union-Tribune reports (Leff, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/31). Hayley Gorenberg, attorney for Cusick, said she believes Cirque should also pay Cusick damages (Los Angeles Times, 1/31).
Separate Investigation Into Alleged Job Discrimination
Meanwhile, the San Francisco Human Rights Commission has begun a separate probe into whether Cirque violated city codes that prohibit job discrimination based on HIV status, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Cirque has leased property owned by the Port of San Francisco and must comply with the codes (Marech, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/31). Larry Brinkin, lead negotiator with the commission's HIV division, said Cirque officials last month met with commission officials to discuss the alleged discrimination. Brinkin said Cirque Vice President Marc Gagnon on Tuesday is expected to return to San Francisco to begin writing an anti-discrimination policy (Los Angeles Times, 1/31). Brinkin said the commission will not end its investigation until Cirque has stated "clearly and strongly that in San Francisco all positions in Cirque du Soleil are open to anyone qualified regardless of ... HIV status" (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/31).